Ally thinks her mother is crazy when she moves across the country to be with her internet boyfriend and leaves Ally at her dad’s with her stepmom, Diane and beautiful stepsister, Caroline. She’s even more upset when she learns that Diane is allergic to dogs and therefore Ally’s dog, Mojo has to stay with the neighbors. That is, until she learns that the neighbor is a cute dog-loving boy named Jonathan. Then, suddenly, Ally wishes she could outshine her beautiful stepsister and catch Jonathan’s attention.
There is a lot that I really like about this book. Author Juli Alexander sets up some great conflicts - between Ally and her mom, Ally and her stepfamily, and even between Ally and Jonathan - which really drive the story and keep things moving at a fast pace. I was invested in Ally from the beginning, and immediately became invested in her relationship with Jonathan from the moment they met. I thought it was clever how author Juli Alexander connected the hero and heroine through their dogs and had the romance blossom from there.
I also enjoyed the fact that Ally is Catholic. It’s nice to see a religious character turn up in a book that isn’t expressly about religion. I was puzzled by some of the comments about Catholic schools, such as the idea that they lack in racial diversity, since in my community, the Catholic schools are very diverse, but these were minor issues and they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.
I think the only thing that did really give me pause was the amount of text spent on gynecology and bodies. I understand that young adult authors like Judy Blume have really impacted young girls by being honest and open about things like menstruation and girls’ changing bodies, but reading about Ally’s visit to the gynecologist - in a romance novel of all places! - made me squeamish, and I didn’t really understand Ally's continual rehashing of an incident in which Ally accidentally saw Diane’s bare breasts. I don’t necessarily object to this content in young adult books, but I wasn’t totally convinced that these threads were significant to the main story in this case.
On a related note, I also thought Ally’s dad’s overprotectiveness was way over the top and it didn’t strike me as plausible at all. At one point in the book, he actually says, “Boys cannot be trusted. They will say whatever they think you want to hear. They are completely controlled by hormones, and honestly almost incapable of any sort of rational thought when a girl is around. Teenage boys have no redeeming values whatsoever.” I can understand a character who is worried about his daughter, but this dialogue is so stereotypical and false-sounding, it reminded me very quickly that I was reading a story, and took me right out of Ally's world.
The strengths of this book are the romance itself, and the relationships between Ally and her family members. I think the writing style will appeal to middle school girls, especially, but those not ready to hear such frank discussion about sexuality might be turned off by some of the content. All in all, though, it’s a well-written, compelling story well worth downloading and sharing with teens.
My digital copy of My Life as the Ugly Stepsister was provided by the author.
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