Doesn’t Class of 2k9 author Sydney Salter’s debut YA novel (My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters) have a fantastically quirky title? (Why yes Shelf Elf… yes it does!) Lucky for readers there’s charm between the covers too. Salter’s first novel is a humorous look at one teen’s search for acceptance, a boyfriend, and ideally, a new and improved nose.
Jory Michaels comes from a family where perfection, and the quest for perfection, is the norm. Her brother is swoon-worthy and smart and her parents fit in pretty well with the country club crowd. Jory’s mom is always on some crazy diet, and she drags the fam along with her from fad to fad, hoping to shed a few pounds along the way. Jory, on the other hand, is stuck being ordinary. She’s not much of a student. She’s not particularly sporty. She doesn’t have a “passion” (aside from longing for the very cute Tyler Briggs). There is one thing about Jory that is exceptional, however, just not in a good way: her nose. It’s lumpy and extra large and everyone likes to point out that it reminds them of Great-Grandpa Lessinger’s schnoz. Fabulous. So Jory decides that she’ll save the money from her summer job delivering wedding cakes to finance a nose job, without telling mom and dad, of course. As it turns out, the road to perfect nosedom is not as straight as Jory had hoped. Will she get there, or will she find that some things change and others stay the same?
Sydney Salter is good at capturing what it’s like for a girl to be totally consumed by her desire to have a boyfriend. For most of the novel, Jory cares about one thing: getting boys to notice her. She feels like in order for that to happen, she has to change something about herself. I was convinced entirely by Jory’s sense of her own ordinariness, and I think teens will relate to this. There were moments when I just wanted to reach into the book and give Jory a good shake, “Be happy the way you are! Stop torturing yourself!” Seeing this character grapple with being her own worst critic was painful, but true. For this reason, I think that My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters would make a good book club choice for teen girls. I’d like to listen in on their reaction to Jory’s intense self-criticism, to hear what they would do in her place. Salter also succeeds in writing some wonderfully funny scenes in her novel. Some of the funniest centre around the mini-disasters Jory experiences in her delivery job.
I’d recommend reading this title alongside Madeline George’s Looks, or Justina Chen Headley’s North Of Beautiful, both of which also explore how appearance shapes identity. My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters is a candid and humorous look at life on the imperfect side of perfect. It is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Stayed tuned for an interview with Sydney in the next couple of days.