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A Handbook for Beautiful People

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Independent Publisher Book Award for Popular Fiction (2018 IPPY awards, Bronze)!
Book Trailer Link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBoRO...

When twenty-two-year-old Marla finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she wishes for a family, but faces precariousness: an uncertain future with her talented, exacting boyfriend, Liam; constant danger from her roommate, Dani, a sometime prostitute and entrenched drug addict; and the unannounced but overwhelming needs of her younger brother, Gavin, whom she has brought home for the first time from deaf school. Forcing her hand is Marla's fetal alcohol syndrome, which sets her apart but also carries her through. When Marla loses her job and breaks her arm in a car accident, Liam asks her to marry him. It's what she’s been waiting for: a chance to leave Dani, but Dani doesn’t take no for an answer. Marla stays strong when her mother shows up drunk, creates her own terms when Dani publicly shames her, and then falls apart when Gavin attempts suicide. It rains, and then pours, and when the Bow River finally overflows, flooding Marla’s entire neighbourhood, she is ready to admit that she wants more for her child than she can possibly give right now. Marla's courage to ask for help and keep her mind open transforms everyone around her, cementing her relationships and proving to those who had doubted her that having a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder does not make a person any less noble, wise or caring.

"Wonderful, heartfelt, heartbreaking—I can't recommend this novel highly enough."

—Annabel Lyon, author of The Sweet Girl

"Jennifer Spruit has such a distinct, poignant voice, and her briiliant debut novel A Handbook For Beautiful People highlights this perfectly. Through sharp characters and their complications, a driven narrative develops, enveloping us before we have a chance to judge. Jump into this novel. It will sweep you up."

—Joseph Boyden, author of The Orenda

260 pages, Paperback

Published October 23, 2017

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About the author

Jennifer Spruit

1 book2 followers
Jennifer recently received an Independent Publisher Book Award for Popular Fiction (2018 IPPY Awards)

Jennifer Spruit grew up in Lloydminster, AB/SK, alongside pump jacks, farm machinery, and its endless, sparkling winter sky. Her affair with writing began with a Grade One story about a tractor, but she has since become engaged in writing about people. She studied Creative Writing at UBC and now lives in Courtenay, on Vancouver Island, where she enjoys playing folk and bluegrass, teaching kids, and rowing a blue canoe. Her work has appeared in Arc, The Antigonish Review, and Prairie Fire Magazine, among others. A Handbook for Beautiful People is her debut novel. She is currently at work on a second novel.

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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews
Profile Image for Stacey A.  Prose and Palate.
357 reviews115 followers
May 31, 2018
I really struggled with this one. The narrative was hard to follow and there wasn't enough back story initially to make sense of what was going on. While I often gravitate towards dark and gritty plots, this was excessive in its use of every single sad story line you could possibly think of. Drugs, porn, pimps, pregnancy, domestic abuse, bullying, prostitution, attempted suicide... it was just too much and it was to the detriment of the book. Unfortunately, this just wasn't a good fit for me and I DNF'ed at the 120 page mark. That being said, this book did win the Ippy Bronze Medal for Popular Fiction, so this could just be a case of book/reader mismatch.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
1,286 reviews25 followers
June 11, 2018
Marla is a 22 year-old waitress/ medical assistant who has had a difficult life. Born to a addicted mother, Marla has partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and her younger brother, Gavin is deaf. Marla bounced around in foster homes and worked as a prostitute until she found a friend in fellow outcast, Dani. Now, Marla and Dani look after each other. Marla is finally beginning to feel like an adult while holding down her two jobs and entering into a relationship with Liam. However, Marla soon finds herself pregnant and looking through the options of abortion, adoption and motherhood. Marla invites Gavin to visit when she is pregnant and getting ready for the arrival of the baby. With Gavin's arrival, she learns that his life has not been easy for him either. Gavin and Dani also enter into a relationship further complicating the balance. Despite everything Marla is doing to keep her head above water, the world has other plans and everything takes a turn for the worse all at once.

A Handbook for Beautiful People provides a raw look into the lives of very real and heartfelt characters. I was very interested in reading a book from the perspective of someone with fetal alcohol syndrome. Marla is an astonishing and well written character. At every turn, Marla's surprised me with her faults, accomplishments, missteps and decisions she was able to make. Though it seemed as if her life were a series of mistakes and drama, Marla was able to shine through. More than once, it seemed as if Gavin might steal the show. Gavin is strong and supportive, but is still working on who he is while being hearing impaired. Gavin's journey was amazing in itself, I think there could be a whole separate story there. My only complaint was that the writing style quickly changed points of view, and it would sometime take me a few sentences to make sense of everything again. The supporting characters around Marla and the events in her life create one big beautiful mess. With twists, turns, breaks, floods, a baby and a decision, Marla's journey is unique and satisfying.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Debra.
469 reviews16 followers
March 22, 2019
First of all, let me get this off my chest: I think the publisher's blurb for this novel makes A Handbook for Beautiful People sound like a melodramatic beach read.

Secondly, let me come clean. When I first started this novel, I had to put it down after the first thirty pages. Did I want to see this story through Marla's flawed perception? No. Then, I perceived the plot as a train wreck---absolutely nothing good was going to come from this story. The light at the end of the tunnel had to be on oncoming train.

I did pick it back up. I did start from the absolute beginning and read it cover-to-cover in one afternoon. It honestly may be the best book I've read this year.

Beach read? No (not that there's anything wrong with that). Complicated and wonderful and beautifully written novel? Resoundingly YES! Spruit strings her characters together as a motley crew of loneliness, a group, as I mentioned before, that has nothing to look forward to and nothing good in sight.

Marla, the adult with FES, finds herself at the center of an island of misfit toys. Someone who first aspires to little more than saving "her diner tips in a spaghetti sauce jar on the stove" (4). She who "finds herself accentuating her whimsy and packaging it in stories about her lovability"(18) to fit in. She could selfishly have that family mentioned in the above blurb, but she wisely and selflessly makes the best decisions for herself and others around her.

Liam is her ironic lover---a would-be concert cellist plagued by arthritis. He changes from one infatuated with Marla's spontaneity to one unwilling to commit to anything permanent. He puts on airs but comes from the same place as the others. I initially wondered why Liam put up with Marla but then I had to question Marla's willingness to deal with Liam's absurd behavior (more absurd and erratic than her own).

Dani is Marla's drug-addled roommate who looks out for Marla. (Or, is it the other way around.) She obviously has her own demons to excise.

Marla reconnects with her brother well into the novel. Gavin's deafness is just a metaphor for his fragmented life. The chapters from his point of view are confusing and addled as he finds himself apart from society.

The chapter titles string together like some free verse recipe trying to make sense: Apple Seed, Ravioli, Tortilla Chip, Christmas Orange, Lemon, Cookie, Pop Can, Burger, Iced Capp., Triple Scoop Ice Cream Cone, Eggplant, Coconut, Honeydew, Microwave Popcorn, Chicken, Pumpkin, Baby, Shrinking. I'm not sure (besides some of the obvious titles) what was going on here, but I enjoyed trying to figure it out.

Do pick this book up (beach vacation or not).
Profile Image for Kay Kuever.
128 reviews16 followers
June 13, 2018
Man, was this a doozy. It took until about halfway through this book for the storyline and characters to really start warming up for me. However, by the time I finished the last page I was hoping for more. 

Talk about unlikeable characters. I don't think I actually fully like any of these characters if I'm being completely honest, but, I can definitely appreciate how gut-wrenchingly raw and painfully true their stories are. A Handbook for Beautiful People takes situations and disabilities that are rarely talked about, let alone written about in gritty dramatic fiction. These issues were exactly what drew me to the book in the first place having never read a book like it. I'm so glad that I did. I feel like I learned something about what really makes people tick, from the good times to the downright horrible. 

While this story starts out being about twenty-two-year-old Marla, her struggles as an adult with partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and her unexpected pregnancy with her older (kind of an asshole) boyfriend, Liam, it quickly becomes about more than them. The story evolves as it encompasses her younger brother Gavin's daily struggle to communicate with a world he can't hear and his inability to control every aspect of his life and the anger that clouds him and the addiction and reckless behavior of Marla's roommate and best friend Dani. Spruit does a truly beautiful job of surrounding her characters in trouble they must learn from or else only get worse. There were, of course, a few moments were a bit over the top for me or just didn't seem to make any specific point, but I think that's just how I feel about most stories that lean towards the dramatic. 

It's books like this that remind me that not every character is supposed to be well received and not every situation has a bright beautiful rainbow at the end of it, but damn, does it make for good reading.
Profile Image for Natalie.
25 reviews2 followers
June 21, 2018
Thank you @tlcbooktours for providing a copy of A Handbook for Beautiful People in exchange for an honest review. 2.5/5 🌟 This book wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea. It was interesting a first, but it seemed quite childish. It could be because Marla the main character acts like a child, due to FAS. But honestly ally he characters here are childish with their lack of communication skills. It was interested reading a boook with different perspectives of everyone though, as they each struggled with something from their past or were affected in some way. This book shifted POV, but it was a confusing transition and I wish it were easier than more abrupt, as it would be less confusing. Overall, it had some good moments but personally not my cup of tea.
Profile Image for Yvonne Williams.
92 reviews8 followers
March 3, 2022
I purchased this book specifically because it featured a character with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder - although the book jacket and the story refers to it as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is no longer a diagnostic term (since 2015) in Canada. It is those small details that many would not know or care about, but as a Canadian, parent and FASD advocate, it is important to me in my review. It is because so little is known about FASD or what is known is usually stigmatized or misunderstood, I wanted to see how this book portrayed the person with FASD.

Would I have picked up this book if FASD wasn’t featured? Not sure. The title did grab my attention. I was surprised (and disappointed) the Handbook was not Marla’s …. I was (wrongly) excited people with FASD would be portrayed as beautiful people. But in the end the Handbook plays a fairly significant and touching role.

The main characters are an interesting mix. Disabilities, trauma, addiction, mental health, prostitution, and growing up in the foster care system just to name a few. Like others stated, it was at times difficult to like these characters on the surface, but when you understand the reasons they are like they are, you have empathy. I have to admit parts of the book were hard to read.

Marla was a strong character. The symptoms of her disability were portrayed with sensitivity. I was hoping more would be shared about her disability - but that came from the place of being a parent and advocate. I was hoping at some point there would at least be external support for these characters from an individual or agency that could help them navigate some of the rough parts of their lives. But unfortunately for many with FASD they don’t have support or understanding. Marla’s foster parents played a minor role. The characters had each other even after struggling with aspects of their relationships because of their individual challenges and personalities.

I was relieved that Marla was a strong character. People with disabilities and FASD should be written about realistically. Every person is an individual and unique with strengths and weaknesses. While there was a lot of struggle and heartbreak in the story, there were moments of clarity and survival. I would like to think that these characters will exist in their book world and grow and evolve and find less struggle and more moments of joy.

If you like complex characters, and can move through the difficult parts with empathy and understanding, you will likely enjoy this book.
Profile Image for Heather.
324 reviews34 followers
July 2, 2018
I don’t think that I’ve read anything as raw, gritty, or gut-wrenchingly helpless and emotional as A Handbook for Beautiful People. Featuring Marla, a twenty-two year-old woman who has partial fetal alcohol syndrome thanks to an alcoholic/drug abusing mother who practically abandoned her and her deaf brother to foster care when they were young, as she struggles with two low paying jobs and a slew of friends who just can’t seem to be fully functioning members of society.

Marla works as a waitress and a medical records assistant, and she shares a house with her drug addicted/part-time prostitute roommate Dani. While Dani helps Marla remember to do things like pay the bills and go to work on time–things that Marla struggles with due to her partial FAS–Marla helps Dani in a lot of ways as well. Marla has been dating cello teacher Liam for several months, and when she finds herself pregnant, she doesn’t tell perfectionist Liam right away. Marla is happy about the pregnancy, thinking that she can be the type of mother to the child that she and her brother Gavin did not have, but her dreams are quickly squashed after she tells her foster parents and Liam about the baby. With her deaf brother Gavin visiting for an extended stay, Marla sees that his life isn’t as good as she thought it was since he went off to a special school. He’s isolated and has anger issues, and Dani finds that he can be easily manipulated.

With ideas of adoption, abortion, or raising the child on her own swimming through her head, Marla certainly doesn’t have any more room to deal with unemployment, a burgeoning romance between Dani and Gavin, or especially the breakdown of her relationship with the father of her baby.

Jennifer Spruit did a fantastic job writing terribly flawed characters that I just couldn’t stop reading about. Every character made mistakes and stepped right on to the brink where they could see where they were heading. Sometimes they stepped over the line, but sometimes they realized that they should take a step back. A Handbook for Beautiful People highlighted two disabilities that you don’t really see written about much these days, and these characters where delved into with emotion, depth, and immense thoughtfulness that left me with a realistic sense of these players as actual people.

I give A HANDBOOK FOR BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE a four out of five. While none of the characters are likeable all the time, they all do have their redeeming moments–and those moments make them shine when contrasted with their realistic, gritty, low points. It took me about 30 pages in before I started warming up to the characters, especially since they were all so grey–but I loved that none of them were perfectly good. This made for a fantastic read where everything is hopeless, but people find a way–always.

(Also on Bewitched Bookworms. Book received for free in exchange for honest review for TLC Book Tours)
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