People argue over who said “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle,” whether it was Plato or Philo or John Watson or whoever. But Cathy Lamb’s touching Such a Pretty Face (Kensington) is the novel that philosophy perfectly embodies. It invites us to think about how what we see on the outside—in so many ways—can hide what’s going on inside. This tour de force of total immersion personality allows us to see the world through another person’s eyes, for better or worse, and understand the mysteries of why people do what they do. And for Stevie Barrett, what sorrows and hopes may haunt them.

Stevie Barrett—what she’s called in one incarnation, at least—gives names to chairs based on their personality and has a secret crush on the guy next door. She has an aversion to online dating and a savage-tongued best friend who rattles the cage at the law firm where they both work. After extensive bariatric surgery and a fix-up operation that follows, Stevie discovers there’s no medical procedure that can lift your inner self-confidence and acuity of personal perception. It is the ugly duckling turned into a swan. But a swan who comes to understand that the external beauty she longed for—what other people see—may not have the expected effect on how she sees herself.

“It’s amazing what young children will do to save themselves,” Stevie tells us. And we, lucky readers, will find out the extent of it as Lamb takes this personal and family saga to contemporary Dickensian levels, with a no-quirks-barred family, a secret past, battling relatives, political controversy, complicated childhoods, and a constant upstream swim toward happiness. It’s a crazy quilt of unpredictable characters, and Lamb crafts irresistible pages of Stevie‘s journey–to find herself, and to find her voice, and to secure her place in the world.

Is this book hilariously comical? Or constantly heartbreaking? That is a question the skilled Lamb juggles on every page, with her multi-layered fast-paced dialogue, uproarious (and troubling) complications, and the wrenching inner thoughts of a character we wish we could advise and comfort and defend.

Can we ever get over our childhood? Do we want to? And what does transformation mean, not just on the outside but on the inside? I dare you not to cry as Stevie comes to terms with her past—and comes up with some answers for herself. But I promise you will never look at beauty—or love—the same way again. And that is a good thing.

You may not agree with every decision Stevie makes, but you will understand it because Cathy Lamb has created such an inventive and unique character. Like Garp, like Bernadette, like Eleanor Oliphant, Stevie is a singular and sympathetic human being, who has made choices, and has had choices made for her, and is struggling toward the future. The result is a one-of-a-kind story from a one-of-a-kind author.

Such a Pretty Face is now available.

About Cathy Lamb

Cathy Lamb drinks too much coffee and daydreams endlessly. That’s how she writes her books.

She calls her husband Innocent Husband in the blogs she writes about him because the poor man is not responsible for anything she says. She has three children: Rebel Dancing Daughter, Adventurous Singing Daughter, and Darling Laughing Son, and two cats. One cat is cranky, one is naughty. She lives in Oregon and writes until about two in the morning.