Today Jillian Cantor is making a stop at Shelf Elf for her current blog tour, in celebration of her latest novel, The Life of Glass. Jillian’s first novel, The September Sisters, was published to much acclaim and now The Life of Glass is set to be released in February. You can read my review of The Life of Glass here. Welcome Jillian!
In The Life of Glass, your main character Melissa changes her thinking about what it means to be beautiful throughout her freshman year of high school. Describe this transformation.
In the beginning of the book, Melissa really has no interest in being “beautiful” in a traditional sense. She’s not interested in make-up or doing her hair or dieting, quite unlike her older sister and her mother who both are/were in beauty pageants. In fact, Melissa thinks there are two kinds of people in the world: beautiful people and good/smart people. But over the course of the book she comes to realize that it isn’t always one or another; sometimes you can be a beautiful person on both the outside and the inside, and also beauty is sometimes more about how you feel than how you look.
If you could give advice to young women on the subject of beauty and self-perception, what would it be?
Don’t try and compare yourself to women you see in magazines. A lot of those images are impossible, air-brushed, unreal. In fact, don’t try to compare yourself to anyone. Find things to love about yourself, and love them because they’re yours!
What people / places / objects / music / artwork do you find beautiful in unconventional or unexpected ways?
I’ll talk about this a little bit in response to your next question, too, but the desert definitely is a place that you might not expect to be beautiful, but I think there’s actually a lot of beauty in it.
As for people, I find images of happiness to be beautiful: laughter, smiles. There is nothing more beautiful to me than my children when they’re laughing. I also think older people who have allowed themselves to age gracefully and naturally are really beautiful. So many people are obsessed with trying to rid their faces of wrinkles or cover up gray hair, but I like the way these things show experience and life and personality. There are stories in there, beautiful stories; why hide them?
It feels significant that you chose to situate your novel in a desert landscape, where beauty is not as showy or as obvious as it can be in other places. Why did you choose this location for your novel, and how do you think it connects to the themes around beauty that you explore in your book?
Well, quite honestly, I chose the desert setting before I knew exactly what the book would be about. I grew up in Pennsylvania, and until this book, I set everything I wrote there. But I’ve lived in the desert for most of my adult life, and I was itching to write a book that takes place here. There’s so much unique in the desert and the landscape that I wanted to see what would happen if I took the landscape and incorporated it into a novel.
Once I started exploring the themes of beauty in the book, the desert landscape felt like the perfect backdrop. In the desert, as I see it, there are a lot of things that are brown, spiny, dry – not particularly traditionally beautiful, but if you look more closely, the beauty is there, and it’s stunning. The cacti bloom the most amazing pink and white flowers in the spring, and the empty dry riverbeds fill with rushing water in the summer. The brown mountains turn the most spectacular shade of purple just around sunset. But in the desert, you sometimes have to really look at things and understand them to find the beauty. The beauty isn’t always as obvious in the desert as it is in a place that’s green and lush with sparkling water. In a way, this mirrors Melissa, and how she might define her own sense of beauty. Continue reading