The lives of three characters -- an obsessive-compulsive, a pregnant teenager, and the teen's unborn child -- come together in National Book Award finalist and Pushcart Prize winner Kim Addonizio's unsparingly funny and transcendent debut novel.
Diana McBride, a thirty-four-year-old former child pageant contender, now works in a baby store in Long Beach. Between dealing with a catastrophic haircut, the failure of her marriage, and phone calls from her alcoholic mother, Diana has gone off her OCD medication and is trying to cope via washing and cleaning rituals. When pregnant teenager Jamie Ramirez enters the store, Diana's already chaotic world is sent spinning.
Jamie can't stand being pregnant. She can't wait to get on with her normal life and give the baby up for adoption. But her yet-to-be-born daughter, Stella, has a fierce will and a destiny to fulfill. And as the magical plot of Little Beauties unfolds, these three characters' lives become linked in ever more surprising ways.
With a poet's ear for fresh, evocative language and a deft humor that exposes her characters' foibles, Addonizio perfectly captures the messiness and unexpected beauty of life.
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Reading Group Discussion Guide Little Beauties: A Novel By Kim Addonizio
"My mother made me understand that everything was subordinate to my beauty." What role does Diana McBride's past life as the star of child beauty pageants play in her current predicament as an obsessive-compulsive woman with low self-esteem?
The friendships that arise between Diana, Jamie, and Anthony seem unconventional in many respects. Do these connections seem dependent primarily on random coincidence, or can they be traced in some larger sense to each character's individual destiny?
Over the course of Little Beauties, how does the theme of mothering get developed and expanded upon in the relationships between Diana and Gloria, Jamie and Mary, Jamie and Stella, Diana and Jamie, and Diana and Stella?
"I am definitely not keeping the baby." How does Jamie Ramirez reconcile her hopes and dreams as a seventeen-year-old girl with the reality of her pregnancy and unborn child? What do you think explains her sudden change of heart with respect to keeping Stella?
How do Diana's "rules" and "homework" serve to frame her obsessive-compulsive disorder? What role do these guidelines play in the larger structure of the novel?
"It's all about loss, this place. It's all about pain, and maybe you don't, after all, want to feel that." How would you describe Stella's awareness of the world around her, and how does it compare to her perception of the world when she is still unborn?
Both Diana and Jamie know an absence of men in their lives -- in Diana's case, she never knew her father, and her husband has just left her; for Jamie, her own father is brain-damaged, and the father of her unborn child has no interest in raising their daughter. To what extent does the absence of male relationships in their lives make Diana and Jamie more emotionally vulnerable than their peers? In what ways does this absence serve to make them more self-reliant?
Diana opens up to Anthony about her fears of contamination. Discuss why this is significant. What does her revelation suggest about the possibility of their having a meaningful relationship?
When Jamie takes off for New York, Diana must rise to the occasion to save Stella's life. "There's no time to wash properly. No time to get off the contamination from Jamie and Stella and that filthy diaper." What are some of the other ways that having Stella and Jamie in her home thrust Diana out of her comfort zone and into a sphere where she can temporarily overcome her obsessive-compulsive disorder?
How did you interpret the end of Little Beauties? What do you think is in store for Diana, Jamie, and Stella?
Do you check to make sure your oven is turned off more than once before you leave the house? Worry inordinately about catching germs? With your book club, discuss some of the "rules" Diana McBride makes in Little Beauties as a means of combating her fears of contamination. To learn more about obsessive-compulsive disorder and its symptoms, visit http://www.ocfoundation.org/ocf1010a.htm.
Visit http://www.ci.long-beach.ca.us/ to get a clearer sense of beautiful Long Beach, the community in Little Beauties where Diana, Jamie, and Stella live.
Kim Addonizio is the author of several acclaimed poetry collections, including What Is This Thing Called Love and Tell Me, which was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award. Her poetry and fiction have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies, including The Paris Review, Microfiction, Narrative, The Mississippi Review, and others. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and two NEA grants, Addonizio lives in Oakland, California.