Kelly Vincent

Publisher: KV Books Pages: 342 Price: (paperback) $18.99 ISBN: 9781958342008 Reviewed: June, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

Ugly is an insightful YA novel, the first in a series, about a young woman’s struggle to find her identity.

The novel follows Nicole (“Nic”), a high school student in small-town Oklahoma frequently mistaken for a boy. Extremely shy, with only one good friend, she yearns for love while struggling with bullying and memories of past sexual abuse. Along the way, she realizes she’s gender nonconforming and begins to stand up for herself.

Nic narrates the novel, and her intelligence and passion come through, even in her misreading or overthinking of situations. At the novel’s start, she thinks a male classmate is flirting with her, realizing to her embarrassment only later, after going to his house, that he has no interest in her. She pines after her acquaintance Zach but is uncertain how to approach him, soon discovering that he and her best friend Sam are dating.

The novel deftly captures young people’s cruelty. Many call Nic a lesbian with derogatory words and consider her ugly. She remembers how, in middle school, boys would grab her breasts. Her older brother Caleb’s friend intentionally damages her art project. When a group of college-age boys see her in a restaurant, they leave a threatening note on her car.

Her abuser was a family friend, and while few details are given about the abuse, its aftereffects are portrayed clearly: pessimism, negative self-image, suspicion of others, social anxiety.

One of the story’s most engaging aspects is Nic’s investigations into her sexuality and gender. While a few boys entice her and she envies boys’ freedom, she has no desire to be one and wonders if she’s a lesbian. Since she doesn’t enjoy typical feminine things, though, she also considers whether she might be trans. Ultimately, she decides that “gender nonconforming best describes her.”

While the novel ends rather abruptly, it’s a compelling read. Those seeking a thoughtful story about gender issues, with an endearing main character, will enjoy Ugly.

Also available as an ebook.

Author's Current Residence
Renton, Washington
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