Publication Date: May 8, 2007
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Spoilers present in this review. Spoiler-free review at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.
Katy isn't happy about being packed off to Los Angeles to visit her dad. Her mom's off on an archeological dig, as part of her studies for her doctorate, and Katy has always gone with her in the past. Why does she have to go and stay with her dad, the infamous drummer known as The Rat? Couldn't she just stay in Canada, where she's happy with her friends? Why did her mother not let her come with her to Peru?
Katy doesn't like life in LA. She doesn't like the noise, the clutter, the passion, that she finds there. It scares her. The daughter of her dad's bandmate names her Beige, and Katy knows it's not a compliment. So should she just live up to her insulting nickname, or is there more to Katy? How will she find out?
There are several different strands that make up this very wonderful tapesty of a teen novel. I've chosen to highlight a couple of them in this review.
I know how to be quiet. I would've stayed out of her way. I've done it a million times before. She knows that. That's one of the things she loves about me.
Katy's relationship with her mother is all-encompassing. For so many years, they've been a team, but now, things are changing. First, her mother sends her to LA instead of taking her to Peru. Then, the dig changes from two and a half weeks to all summer, leaving Katy in LA. Castellucci realistically presents the feelings of a girl who loves her mother, but isn't quite able to let out those feelings. You feel that Katy is angry with her mother, but it's not till the end of the book, when her mom reveals that they'll be moving to Madrid, that Katy is able to realize how upset she is with her mother, and talk about it. Before that, she holds things in, doesn't talk about what she wants. Katy's time in LA allows her to realize that staying quiet isn't her only option.
Infamously un-famous. Infamously messed up. Infamously the greatest band that never made it.
Refreshingly, The Rat isn't a huge rock star. He's been a part of Suck since he was a teenager, and there's a true friendship between him and Sam Suck, the founder of the band. But they're not famous, except for being a band that never made it big. There's a great scene where The Rat is talking with a bunch of other musicians, guys who sold more records, had more fame, made more money, got sober sooner. It's the dark side of being a musician, or anyone famous: vices are easier to feed when you've got people willing to feed them. It's something that Katy doesn't know much about, because her mom doesn't talk much about those years. Katy knows how her parents met (her teenage mom smuggled herself onto Suck's tour bus and into her dad's bunk, and the rest was history) and how her mom got clean (when she found out she was pregnant with Katy, her mom checked into rehab). But she doesn't know about how addiction takes control of you and you can't get clean, until she visits her father and sees what being a musician is all about. At first, she doesn't like it, doesn't want it. By the end of the book, though, she's starting to figure out what it means.
My wild thoughts are mine, safe inside of me.
Katy daydreams and fantasizes. She imagines calling Lake, the daughter of Sam Suck and the creator of the Beige nickname, a bitch. She thinks about throwing herself at Leo, the hot boy who swims in the pool at her father's apartment. But she doesn't do these things; she acts the way she's supposed to act. She's quiet, reads a lot, doesn't reveal what she's thinking. But that takes a toll on you, and gradually, Katy starts realizing that letting things out isn't a bad thing. She sees that when her father is struggling with a desire to take a hit, when Lake screams at her bandmates. Over the course of the book, Katy starts letting those wild thoughts out.
These are just some aspects of this book. Katy is a unique character, because she seems so ordinary. But like all of us, the quietest of facades hides a chaos of emotion and experiences. Castellucci shows Katy, The Rat, Lake, and other characters in the book as well-rounded and well-developed individuals. Additionally, the city of Los Angeles is a character, as in Castellucci's other books, Boy Proof and The Queen of Cool. Written with an authentic and honest voice, Beige is another gem from Cecil Castellucci.
Library Program Ideas
--Play music from the bands mentioned in Beige at the start of a book discussion. Talk about how the music makes teens feel. Ask whether Katy is right to feel scared.
--Pair this book with a similiar book, such as Born to Rock by Gordon Korman, and explore the differences.
--Create a punk rock display, using CDs of punk bands as well as books like Beige.