Review: Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined – Danielle Younge-Ullman

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined – Danielle Younge-UllmanEverything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman
Narrator: Phoebe Strole
Length: 9 hrs, 58 mins
Published by Listening Library on February 21, 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
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four-half-stars

Then
Ingrid traveled all over Europe with her opera star mother, Margot-Sophia. Life was beautiful and bright, and every day soared with music.
Now
Ingrid is on a summertime wilderness survival trek for at-risk teens: addicts, runaways, and her. She's fighting to survive crushing humiliations, physical challenges that push her to her limits, and mind games that threaten to break her.
Then
When the curtain fell on Margot-Sophia's singing career, they buried the past and settled into a small, painfully normal life. But Ingrid longed to let the music soar again. She wanted it so much that, for a while, nothing else mattered.
Now
Ingrid is never going to make it through this summer if she can't figure out why she's here, what happened to Margot-Sophia, and why the music really stopped.

One of my favorite things in blog life is getting the lists of Penguin Random House audiobook emails in my inbox. They’re so easy to work with, and they have this massive catalog of titles; I am the kid in a candy store grabbing anything that remotely looks interesting. Sometimes this doesn’t end well, but sometimes I end up trying books I’d overlooked and loving them. Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined had gone completely below my radar; the blurb really doesn’t sound like Christina bait. With a good narrator, though, I’m willing to try a lot of things, so I went for it. From the very start, I fell in love with this vibrant, funny, and oddly dark contemporary novel.

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined alternates between Ingrid’s present, in which she’s on a camping trip of horrors, and her past, which unfolds slowly from childhood to the events that sent her on the camping trip of doom. That switch between past and present, withholding some information from the past until the author wants you to know, only works for me sometimes, but Younge-Ullman makes effective use of the technique here. Everything unfolds in a very natural way, seeming to correspond with Ingrid’s ability to handle thinking about those events.

Central to the novel is Ingrid’s relationship with her mother, opera singer Margot Sophia. She loves her mother, but she no longer idolizes her as she did as a little kid. On the camping trip, Ingrid doesn’t know why her mother forced her on this nightmare vacation, whether it was malicious or not. After her mother’s singing career ended (nodes, which we know from Pitch Perfect are serious business), Margot Sophia’s depression had her in bed for over a month, with a young Ingrid trying to figure out going to real school for the first time without any real support. Even when Margot Sophia recovers from that bout of depression, she’s not the same person she was, even going by “Marg” for a while and referring to Margot Sophia as someone who died.

Ingrid and Margot Sophia have a complex relationship. YA has its share of bad parents, but this relationship is more complex than Margot Sophia being simply a bad parent. She loves her daughter, but her particular set of issues do not dovetail with what Ingrid is going through. Ingrid’s discovering her own musical talent while her mom hasn’t yet dealt emotionally with the fact that her career is over. A lot of the development here falls into the spoiler realm, but I got major feels off of their toxic relationship and this book made me cry.

Another thing I love about the familial relationships in this book is Andreas. He meets her mom when she’s still going by Marg, and he falls for her. Andreas is such an incredibly sweet guy, but dimensional. He could easily have come off as too perfect, but he has flaws that sometimes play into making things worse with Margot Sophia. Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined highlights the ways that people can love each other but still hurt each other with the best of intentions. By the same token, this book shows the importance of working through the good relationships, of finding a way to be better to one another. You see this both in Ingrid’s familial relationships and her relationship with Isaac.

In exchange for getting to attend music school, Ingrid agreed to go on a three week camping excursion which actually sounds like my personal hell. It’s like survivalist camping, and honestly I cannot imagine how the people running this company do not get sued. Ingrid thought she was going to be a regular camp with cabins and bathrooms and stuff, but instead she’s in crappy tents in the woods after HOURS of hiking everyday and she’s supposed to carry her TP around in a plastic bag and save it all rather than leaving it in the woods. There’s no food that doesn’t have mosquitoes in it. They have to sleep three to a tent, and since there are four girls and five guys, Ingrid has to sleep with two boys.

The camp counselors are frustratingly not helpful throughout the experience. They demand that the campers guide everyone to the site, rotating the leader every couple of days, meaning that they get super lost and have to hike tons of extra hours. One girl gets horrible blisters and they’re just like “don’t worry; they’ll toughen up and you’ll be fine.” They let Ingrid’s group choose a poor tent location on the first day, and it floods; they don’t give her a chance to wash her clothes or anything. Normally, a whiny heroine is the worst, but I would have been a million times more whiny than Ingrid is about all of this, and I cheered whenever she chewed out Pat and Bonnie, aka the trip leaders. Pretty much the only time they take decisive action without being yelled at by Ingrid is after she is sexually assaulted by another camper; View Spoiler ».

The trip basically opens up this emotional firestorm for Ingrid, which turns out to be harder on her than all the privations. Initially, Ingrid really doesn’t think she needs to be on this camping trip/therapy quest for at-risk youth, but increasingly all the shit that Ingrid has been repressing bubbles to the surface. It’s very emotionally satisfying watching Ingrid open up and being to process everything.

My favorite thing about this book is Ingrid’s voice. While the subject matter is mostly sad and/or anger-making (intentionally), Ingrid’s voice is funny, sarcastic, and engaging. It’s a delight to read, even though the content is heavy. It’s really beautifully done. Phoebe Strole’s narration is perfect, and she very much shines at Ingrid’s snark.

Contemporary readers who appreciate powerful character arcs and tough subjects should definitely try Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined. I know I will be reading more books by Younge-Ullman.

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2 responses to “Review: Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined – Danielle Younge-Ullman”

  1. Joanne Levy says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I only skimmed your review for now (because I can’t deal with any spoilers) but am finally digging into this book this weekend. Danielle is a friend of mine and I’ve always known her to be an AMAZING writer (and all around lovely person). Check out her debut, Falling Under, which you can pick up for a few dollars on Kindle. Raw and dark and so good.
    Joanne Levy recently posted…CRUSHING IT Launch Party!My Profile

  2. Kelly says:

    I actually love when the past and present are intertwined in a way that propels the present forward – it’s one of my favourite styles, when done right.

    The camping for troubled youth piece is making me laugh though – did her mom go on an episode of Maury and that was the suggested fix? Haha
    Kelly recently posted…Book Review: WinterMy Profile

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