Guest Reviewer: Lauren McLaughlin


Lauren McLaughlin is the author of the quirky tale, Cycler. We interviewed Lauren a few months ago and now we’ve got another McLaughlin treat for you. She’s been kind enough to sit down and review one of her own fave YA novels for your reading pleasure.

She chose Cintra Wilson’s Colors Insulting to Nature.

Colors Insulting to Nature – Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson’s Colors Insulting to Nature is a teen novel that’s not quite a teen novel. Though it follows the escapades of fame-hungry Liza Normal throughout her teen years and into young adulthood, it does so with the knowing backward gaze of someone who’s survived the whole ordeal.

Liza Normal is a singer of very modest talent who, largely because of the deluded longings of her topless juggler mother, dreams of being famous. No amount of failure or rejection can weaken this desire and we follow Liza all the way from her mother’s disastrously comic re-staging of The Sound of Music (complete with topless juggling) to her cabaret debut as dominatrix, Venal de Minus. Liza never achieves her goal of becoming so famous that “people will see me and cry,” and that is the subversive point of this novel. You can’t have everything you want if only you try hard enough. Dreams don’t come true. And why is that? Because your dreams are stupid, that’s why.

Talk about a refreshing twist on the coming of age tale.

The story takes place in the eighties and is so chock full of achingly detailed cultural references that reading the novel is like re-living that decade. If you’ve ever seen the movie Ice Castles (and if you’re over thirty, be honest, you have) the novel is worth the price of admission merely for Wilson’s brilliant deconstruction of that film. I never realized until I read this novel just how central to my development as a sexual being that underwear scene was. Colors is full of just this sort of cringingly self-aware detail. And smack in the middle of it all is a love story that is as brutal as it is sexy. Liza’s high school relationship with the cruel, witty, and gorgeous Anton is in many ways a mirror image of the savaging she receives from the world at large. That she loves him just the same is the extra twist of the knife. But then who among us hasn’t, at one time or another,fallen victim to a disastrously potent longing for someone who has contempt for us? And isn’t this in essence what we’ve done to ourselves as a society by allowing mass media to re-engineer our most primal human desires into a vain quest for fame. In the end, it’s this unflinching examination of our unhealthiest desires that distinguishes Wilson both as a storyteller and as a cultural critic. That she also manages to evoke genuine vulnerability and tenderness˜especially in Liza’s relationship with her best friend–elevates the novel above mere satire. Wilson is not pointing a finger and laughing at these characters. Nor is she asking us to laugh at ourselves. That would be letting us off too easy. This is a novel of ideas that implicates the reader by making us want Liza to achieve her deluded goals,even as we criticize her for having them.