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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Becoming Bayley: Not Bad For A Newbie

(Image from Deseret Book)

When 17-year-old Bayley Albrecht is invited to attend an intensive summer soccer camp at BYU, she couldn't be more thrilled.  Determined to make her dreams of playing for the Y a reality, she heads to Provo with one goal:  impressing the women's soccer coach.  Catching the eye of a hot goalie isn't part of her plan, but Bayley's ecstatic when Matt Macauley proves he's just as interested in her as she is in him.  They promise to write each other during the two years Matt's on his mission.  After that, they'll both be at BYU, studying, playing soccer and, hopefully, falling in love.  Bayley can't imagine anything better.

Then comes a shocking diagnosis, one that rocks Bayley to her core—she has alopecia aereata, a skin disease that causes severe hair loss.  Bayley's never been one of those girls who obsesses over her looks, but now she can't stop worrying.  How long can she hide her condition from her friends?  How will they react when they learn the truth?  Will she be able to play soccer with her usual confidence if she's bald?  And, most of all, will Matt—a guy who makes every girl at BYU swoon—still want her without the hair he thinks is so beautiful?  

As Bayley struggles to come to terms with her alopecia, she'll have to make some agonizing decisions about soccer, about Matt, and about her dreams for the future.  And, in doing so, she'll discover the true meanings of faith, friendship and forever love. 

There's a lot to love about Becoming Bayley, a debut novel by Susan Auten.  For one thing, it deals with a unique subject, a disease I've never heard of, let alone read about before.  And it does it in a way that's both sensitive and believable.  While I initially thought, "What's the big deal?  It's just hair," Auten helped me understand how dealing with alopecia can be a very big deal, especially for a teenage girl.  Then, there's Bayley herself.  I don't see a lot of confident, athletic heroines in modern literature, so it's always refreshing when I do encounter one.  In addition, Becoming Bayley is a clean, uplifting novel, the kind that's appropriate for teenagers, even though it's geared toward a slightly older audience.  All of these things are major plusses in my book.

Now, I wouldn't be me if I didn't have a *few* complaints, right?  So, here goes:  it takes a while for the plot to get going, which makes the story feel a little clumsy and unfocused.  Also, because it covers over two years of time, the novel jumps around, giving too much detail in some places and not enough in others.  My biggest issue, though, is with Bayley.  While I liked her initial confidence, the all-consuming self-pity that plagues her throughout the rest of the story drove me crazy.  I sympathized at first because I thought her "Why me?" rants were realistic, but (and maybe this is totally insensitive of me), they got old.  Fast. Especially since Bayley spends almost the entire novel focusing only on herself and her problems.  As much as I wanted her to step outside herself a little, she never did, which made her seem whiny and self-centered, two qualities I don't appreciate in people, be they real or fictional. 

I know disease novels are notoriously difficult to pull off and, really, I think Auten performed well for a newbie.  While there are definitely things that irritate me about Becoming Bayley, overall it's a nice, heartwarming story about a girl overcoming the hardships in her life.  Her journey toward self-acceptance is both unique and familiar, one that will no doubt speak to every girl who's ever scowled at her reflection in the mirror (and isn't that all of us?).  Even better, the book's got a freshness to it that convinces me Auten is a writer to watch—one of those authors who has the ability to pen LDS novels I actually want to read.  And, coming from me, that's saying an awful lot.                    

(Readalikes:  The sports aspect reminded of the Dairy Queen series [Dairy Queen; Off SeasonFront and Center] by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, while the style recalls the novels of Becca Wilhite and Melanie Jacobson)

Grade:  C+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for very mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Becoming Bayley from the generous Susan Auten.  Thank you!


  1. Hm. I disagree with you on this one. I think Becoming Bayley is head and shoulders above a lot of the LDS YA fiction I've read it and definitely think it's better than a C+. But you're right, the author has a great voice. It'll be interesting to see what she comes out with next.

    1. To tell you the truth, I waffled between a B- and a C+, and maybe I SHOULD have settled on the later. However, the story jumped around a lot, the romance felt rushed, and Bayley's constant memememe-ness drove me nuts (you may recall that self-centered MCs are one of my big literary pet peeves :]), so in the end I settled on a C+. It's a first novel, though, and that's the way those go sometimes. I definitely think Susan shows a lot of promise, so I'm excited to see what she does next.

      You will be glad to know that authors like you and Susan are *slowly* changing my opinion of LDS fiction. You're making me actually look forward to reading it, which is like a small miracle. Seriously.


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