Reviews for Prettiest Doll

Booklist Reviews 2012 July #1
After winning such titles as Glitz ‘n' Glamour Girl, Adorable Missouri Miss, and Little Miss Queen of Hearts, 13-year-old Olivia has had it with pageants--especially now that she is expected to sing, a skill she simply doesn't possess. So she joins Danny, a 15-year-old teenage runaway with a growth deficiency, on a bus to Chicago. Willner-Pardo juggles a lot here: pageant life, neglectful parents, a grow-as-you-go road trip, and first love. But her leads are strong and sympathetic, enough so that readers will overlook the periodic strains in credibility. Swear words pop up with surprising frequency, but make no mistake: this is a sweet and gentle offering. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Spring
Liv, thirteen, has competed in pageants all her life and has mostly enjoyed herself, but when she meets fifteen-year-old runaway Dan she begins to question the pageant world and her own identity. Liv's character slowly un-flattens, revealing personality, intelligence, sadness, depth--and unexpected backbone. Liv and Dan's relationship is first love at its most genuine in this poignant story of self-actualization.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2013 #1
Thirteen-year-old Missourian Olivia Jane knows she's pretty, and she's grateful for it. Pushed by her shallow, obsessed mom ("Being pretty is the best thing to be good at because that's what people really care about"), Liv has competed in pageants all her life and has mostly enjoyed herself. Though there are hints from the beginning that there's much more to vacant-seeming Liv, it's when she meets diminutive fifteen-year-old runaway Dan that she really begins to question the pageant world and her own identity. She runs away, too, following Dan to Chicago on an adventure during which they develop an intense bond. Liv's character slowly un-flattens, revealing personality, intelligence, sadness, depth -- and a backbone we didn't expect. Dan is also a profound character: whip-smart, quirky, stubborn, but deeply fragile and grappling with insecurities about his growth disorder. It's satisfying that Dan ignites something already lurking inside of Liv rather than being the reason she changes, and the relationship that forms between them is first love at its most genuine -- mature beyond their years and tenderly reciprocal. Messages about obsession with physical beauty, the complexities of parent-child relationships, and being true to oneself abound in this self-actualization story, but Willner-Pardo delivers them poignantly. katrina hedeen

Kirkus Reviews 2012 September #2
Thirteen-year-old Liv feels invisible behind the facade of her beauty. A veteran beauty-pageant participant, Liv recognizes life is easier because she is attractive. However, she longs to be valued beyond her good looks and feels trapped by her mother's expectations. Willner-Pardo skillfully conveys Liv and her mother's complicated relationship. Even as she struggles to extricate herself from her mother's goals, Liv is keenly aware of the many sacrifices her mother makes so that Liv can achieve those goals. Liv rebels against her beauty-pageant image through subtly defiant acts; while her mother rarely swears, Liv occasionally sprinkles her language with curse words. However, her mother's insistence that Liv sing at the upcoming Prettiest Doll pageant catapults Liv into open revolt. Danny, a 15-year-old runaway with his own struggles, inspires Liv to escape from her woes. When she impetuously joins Danny on the run, they discover a common goal: Both want to confront a person who has left them. Dan's and Liv's subsequent discoveries empower them to reconsider their futures. Willner-Pardo deftly captures the complexity of adolescence as these resilient teens endeavor to define their identities and establish control over their lives. (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 October #4

Beauty pageants hold a particular fascination in the American consciousness, especially when children are involved. Thirteen-year-old Olivia has been entering--and often winning--pageants in smalltown Missouri since she was three. Her overweight mother happily works two jobs to fund Olivia's appearances, but Olivia is starting to feel lost and angry behind the heavy makeup and extravagant dresses. When Olivia meets Danny, a 15-year-old runaway headed for Chicago, her discontent boils over, and she decides to join him. Once in Chicago, Danny confronts his long-missing father while Olivia reconnects with her uncle. As the two fall for each other, Olivia must decide whether to return home and continue participating in pageants. Willner-Pardo (The Hard Kind of Promise) gives Olivia a realistically conflicted narrative voice that reveals the immense pressure she is under to perform, her concerns about her mother's weight and the family's finances, and her guilt over not sharing her mother's passion for pageant competition. Olivia's attraction to moody Danny is perhaps less believable, but her growth is organic and genuine. Ages 9-12. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Nov.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2013 February

Gr 6-8--Olivia Tatum has won beauty pageants since she was a small child. Now 13, she is starting to question this activity, thinking her only asset is being pretty. Meanwhile, her overweight mother and pageant coach are drilling her for the upcoming Prettiest Doll competition, and she's had enough. Then she meets Dan, an unusually short 15-year-old who has landed in her Missouri town, camping out, having run away from his home in Texas after his mother pressured him to get growth hormone shots. He intends to go to Chicago, and, after a sleepless night, Liv decides to join him. During the bus ride north, they talk about their lives, and in Chicago make their way to the apartment of Liv's deceased father's brother. They visit some of the city's sights as their mutual attraction grows. Both of them are trying to work on issues with the adults in their lives, but as runaways, they are wary of encountering police, spending a risky night hiding in a movie theater. Dan gathers the courage to go see his divorced father, and the encounter is an exchange laced with disappointment and anger, but reflecting on it, Dan sees himself anew. Liv also has a candid talk with Uncle Fred, and both teens return to their homes with changed perspectives. Considering the vulnerability of Liv, the self-assertion she seeks, and the hint of romance, this coming-of-age novel will strike a resonant chord with middle school girls.--Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT

[Page 115]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

VOYA Reviews 2012 August
Thirteen-year-old Liv Tatum has been winning beauty pageants since the age of three. With her father dead, her mother's sole focus is to keep Liv winning; she works two jobs, makes Liv practice for hours a day, sends her to professional coaches, and buys too-expensive dresses. Liv, however, yearns to know if there is more to her than beauty. When she encounters fifteen-year-old Dan, on the run because he wants to control his own life, Liv joins him on a road trip of realization, rebellion, and romance. After this measure of freedom and self-discovery, however, they decide that "sometimes, backing down is the right thing to do," and return to their former lives with a better understanding of their ability to choose their own paths  Willner-Pardo writes convincingly about teenagers' desire for control over their own lives. Both Liv and Dan are believable, flawed characters discovering their own personalities and not always acting or reacting in expected ways. The other characters have depth as well, and the author's description of the beauty pageant world creates an intriguing setting. The prolonged ending, however, breaks the structure of the book, and its Wizard of Oz-like message of settling for the status quo is not entirely convincing. In addition, the blaring pinkness of the book's title, cover, and subject matter may drive away readers who would enjoy its insight and romance.--Rebecca MooreThis story covers romance, appearance-based prejudice, and mother-daughter relationship issues, albeit in a shallow manner. While it is entertaining, the author burdens the plot by paying too much attention to insignificant details. For instance, she spends considerable time describing a cement stoop, but never mentions it again. In addition, her language seems simple compared to language in other books in the same age category, but there are profanities throughout the novel. 3Q, 3P.--Nina Anikeeva, Teen Reviewer 4Q 3P M  Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.