Outside Beauty

Outside Beauty

Read by: Sue Jean Kim
For Ages: 12 and up
  • reading group guide
There's only one way Shelby and her sisters can describe their mother: she's a sexpot. She collects men (and loans, spending money, and gifts of all kinds) from all over the country. Sure, she's atypical, but she's also more than a pretty face and nail polish -- she's confident and brave and lives lifeon her own terms. And her daughters adore her, and work together to keep the family grounded in a way their mother can't.

Then a late-night car crash shatters everything, including their mother's arm and face. Suddenly, the family is scattered across the country, each girl being sent to live with her respective father. While Helen undergoes surgery and post-surgery, the sisters try to adjust to a life without each other. The trouble is, they're NOT adjusting, and the youngest, Maddie, is so terrified of her father that she's withdrawing...from her sisters, and from herself. That's when Shelby realizes something must be done -- something drastic -- to reclaim her family. At turns wickedly funny and unflinchingly haunting, Outside Beauty showcases Cynthia Kadohata's unerring ability to explore the bonds that bind.
Choose a format:
  • Simon & Schuster Audio | 
  • ISBN 9780743572118 | 
  • June 2008 | 
  • Grades 7 and up | 
  • Lexile 620
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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions
1) Exploring the bonds that bind a family is one of the major themes of the story. What are some of the expressions of closeness that the sisters display?
2) What are some of the characteristics the sisters share? What are some of their differences?
3) What adjectives would you use to describe Shelby? Marilyn? Lakey? Maddie? Helen?
4) The impact of Helen's behavior on the sisters is complex. How does her attitude toward men shape the sisters' attitudes? How does her use of her beauty affect them?
5) How do the sisters view their mom's beauty? How do they reflect her values?
6) In many families the siblings take care of one another. Describe the relationship of Shelby and Maddie before they go to live with their fathers and then while they are separated.
7) How do the fathers relate to Helen now that they are no longer with her? How do they relate to their daughters? How do they relate to one another?
8) The discussion of marriage comes up many times in the story. How has their mother's desire not to marry affected the sisters?
9) Helen and the fathers are described as outsiders. Helen found each man through their shared loneliness. Have the sisters also become outsiders? Can they change?
10) Which sister is the most rebellious? Who is the most compliant? Who is the most motherly? Give examples that support your choices.
11) We learn both from our parents and from our surroundings. Do these char see more

About the Author

Cynthia Kadohata
Photo Credit:

Cynthia Kadohata

Cynthia Kadohata is the author of the Newbery Medal–winning book Kira-Kira, the National Book Award winner The Thing About Luck, the Jane Addams Peace Award and Pen USA Award winner Weedflower, Cracker!, Outside Beauty, A Million Shades of Gray, and several critically acclaimed adult novels, including The Floating World. She lives with her son and dog in West Covina, California.

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