I REALLY had to put on my big-girl pants for this week’s #plotdrivenlife experience, but first, let me share a book that had me thinking about its message long after I finished it: Dhonielle Clayton’s, The Belles:
In the fantastical land of Orleans, Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, one of a select few girls born with the ability to beautify the population. Without the intervention of a Belle, every person–even royalty–reverts to a natural “cursed” state of pale skin, grey hair and colorless eyes: the definition of ugly. Only the wealthy can afford regular Belle treatments– painful procedures that must be repeated on a regular basis to maintain one’s beauty. Strong-willed Camellia is determined to outshine her Belle sisters to be hand-selected by the queen to serve as the official royal Belle, known as “the favorite.” When she’s named the runner-up, Camellia is devastated, believing she failed her mother who, herself, served as the favorite. When Amber, her Belle sister, mysteriously vanishes from the palace and Camellia is put in her place, Camellia doesn’t know what to think. Should she be happy she realized her dream? Or fear for Amber’s safety? Camellia soon realizes one of the royals is unstable and will destroy anyone–Belle or not– who gets in the way of her plans to be queen. When the ailing queen approaches Camellia with a plea to use her Belle powers in an unconventional way, Camellia must decide if it’s worth risking her own life.
This book made me weigh the value of beauty in our society and got me thinking about what lengths we are, as a society, willing to go to look beautiful. Will future governments put restrictions on what procedures we can and can’t undergo to look a certain way? Or will advancements in genetics allow us to choose the way our children look? This is a great book to start discussion about the the concept of beauty and the pressure to look beautiful. The author also includes an interesting note at the end of the book about what sparked her idea for this story.
As I mentioned earlier, the Belles kept me thinking about our obsession with beauty long after I finished the book. My original idea for a #plotdrivenlife experience inspired by this book was to do something fun and inconsequential: put notes in helium balloons and release them, inspired by the “post balloons” that the people of Orleans can magically send to one another. As I thought more about our societal obsession with beauty, though, I decided on a more meaningful and much more scary #plotdrivenlife experience to honor The Belles: I went a whole week without wearing a stitch of make-up.
Now let me put this into perspective for you because if you are a young person reading this post, you probably know that the current beauty trend is to look natural. Messy hair, bare faces and comfy clothes are “in” right now, and I think that’s absolutely fantastic. In fact, I’ve been an admirer of Alicia Keys and her decision to wear no/limited make-up since 2016 (read her powerful message about going “raw” here). I know in my heart that no person should feel like he/she has to wear a mask every day to look beautiful or fit in. So if you’ve embraced this natural trend, or if you’ve never cared to wear make-up, you’re probably thinking I’m a big baby for being scared by the idea of going without make-up for a week.
Here’s the thing, though: I grew up in a family of women who don’t let anyone see them until they have their “faces on.” I don’t think I EVER saw my Nanny without make-up and perfectly coiffed hair, and my mom will still sometimes apologize to me if I FaceTime her early in the morning and she has yet to do her make-up and hair. The women in our family typically rise early to go through their morning beauty routines before anyone else can see them. They don’t go to their mailboxes (attached to their houses, no less) without fully made up faces. They don’t go to the grocery store, the doctor’s office or out for coffee without their make-up masks. So, for me, this has always been normal and pre-programmed behavior. As a result, it was especially brave of me to consider going to school every day to teach the wrinkle-free, fresh-faced youth of America who had never seen me without concealer, powder, blush, eye-shadow, eye-liner, pencil-lined brows, mascara, and bronzer applied to my face. Add to this fact that my face is rounder because I’m seven months pregnant, and, well, I dreaded the idea of going a whole week unfiltered. However, my goal in tackling this experience was to attempt to be comfortable in my own skin and challenge the idea that I need to wear a make-up mask every day to hide my real self.
To highlight how uneasy this whole experience made me, I’m sharing with you a graphic that made me so uncomfortable to create that I walked away from it a couple of times. Here’s me, during my no make-up week, with some of my own commentary on what I don’t like about my face. And readers, it’s scary to me how quickly and easily I came up with all of these criticisms:
Day one without make-up was rough. Walking in to school in the morning, I thought about making a run for the door and calling in sick. Seriously. I wore my glasses instead of my contacts in the hopes they would hide my deep under-eye circles and my tiny, unlined eyes. I expected my fellow staff and my students to point and laugh at me, or ask why I looked so tired. I expected them to look longer at my face because they could clearly now see right through me and realize how flawed I actually am. But, you know what happened? No one said a thing. I taught a bunch of classes, had face-to-face conversations with staff and even visited another school to talk to students about my blog, and no one questioned my value, my professionalism, or my appearance. No one. And by day seven, while in a public place, Mike told me I had a wild blonde whisker growing out of my face, and I shrugged and said I’d get it later. That, my friends, is progress!
So while I’ll go back to wearing make-up to work next week because I feel more professional wearing it, I won’t be so hesitant to go bare-faced on weekends, and I am beginning to accept that my worth isn’t tied to my appearance. Here’s a powerful ad from Dove that ran a few years ago that supports that idea that we view ourselves so much more critically than others. This would be an awesome experiment to try with students to help them see how beautiful they really are.
By now, you probably know that Jimmy Fallon picked Children of Blood and Bone for the Tonight Show’s Summer Reads book club. And how cool is it that his audience helped choose a book with strong, diverse characters, the first from crazy-talented twenty-something author Tomi Adeyemi?! My summer YA book club of teachers and librarians who live in the O’Fallon, MO area actually picked this book to read before Jimmy chose it for his show. That’s how on-trend we are! Check out Jimmy Fallon’s interview with Tomi Adeyemi here. She is #goals!
It was no easy feat to choose a #plotdrivenlife experience to go along with this book, but more on that in a sec. Check out my review, first:
What makes Children of Blood and Bone particularly on fleek is that Adeyemi created a FIERCE main female character with the envy of magical powers. Zelie Adebola first appears to be a hot-headed mess-up, someone whose hasty decisions get her in trouble on the regular. She lives in a fractured world without magic, and she’s old enough to vividly recall the night when her mother was brutally murdered for her magical ability to call on spirits, the same night all magic and magi disappeared forever.
But we all know magic didn’t really disappear forever (duh!), and Zelie is, of course, central to restoring magic to the land of Orisha. When she unknowingly helps Amari, the princess of Orisha, escape from her father, the king, it sets off a chain of events that lead Zelie, Amari, and Zelie’s brother, Tzain, across the kingdom, in search of three holy items and the mysterious island where they will perform the ritual to revive magic. Complicating matters, Amari’s father is the evil ruler who banished magic and ordered the deaths of the magi. He sends his son, Inan, in search of Amari and the holy artifacts with the directive to destroy anything and anyone that gets in his way. Inan’s loyalty to his father and country is tested, though, when Inan realizes he, himself, has magi blood and finds himself dangerously attracted to Zelie.
This book includes epic sea battles, steamy love scenes, fantastical beasts, and ratcheting suspense. It reminded me of a cross between some of the darker scenes in Diana Gabaldon’s, Outlander and the survival challenges in The Hunger Games, and A Court of Thorns and Roses. It’s the first in a series, and it ends with a cliff-hanger.
As you can probably imagine, it takes extra imagination to plan a #plotdrivenlife experience based on a fantasy novel. For a while, I gave serious consideration to adding a white streak to my hair (the Orishan sign that someone has magical abilities), but I don’t think I could rock that as well as one of my favorite fashionistas, Stacy London. Stacy London co-hosted a long-ago canceled show called What Not to Wear, one of those guilty pleasure shows you sort of hate yourself for enjoying, but she has a fierceness that in some ways reminds me of Zelie. But, I digress.
Instead of dying my hair, I focused on magic. In the book, there are actually ten magi clans whose powers vary from control of natural elements to the ability to affect life and death. Zelie is a Reaper, a magi with the ability to summon the souls of the dead, just like her mother. If I had to choose from one of these ten powers for myself, I think I would be a Tamer with the ability to communicate with animals, but guess what!? There is actually a quiz you can take to determine which clan you belong to!
Since I don’t have any actual magical abilities, I decided Mike and I would go in search of a real magician. And as luck would have it–and this was kind of creepy/cool– the day that I searched for upcoming magic shows in the area, it just so happened that THE David Blaine was performing at the local Peabody Opera House that very night. I bought tickets, and off we went.
Now, I couldn’t take any pictures of the show, but trust me when I tell you that David Blaine is INSANE. The man encouraged an audience member to sew his mouth shut, and then he somehow revealed her very large engagement ring on his tongue once he was un-stitched. Another (giddy) audience member stuck a foot-long needle all the way through his bicep without producing ANY blood. He blew fire on a candelabra, held his breath underwater for thirteen minutes and regurgitated a LIVE FROG that I never saw him swallow. The whole time, he was cool as a cucumber. He is a total beast, and I could fall down a rabbit hole watching all the videos on his YouTube channel. Take my money, David Blaine!
This is another unique experience for me inspired by a dynamite book, and I loved the last-minuteness of taking in David Blaine’s show. If you read Children of Blood and Bone, what would you have chosen for a #plotdrivenlife adventure?
This Alice in Wonderland spin-off is set in the peaceful, magical land of Hearts which is ruled by a buffoon-of-a-king who has his eyes on the regal Lady Catherine Pinkerton. “Cath” is the daughter of wealthy land owners who fall over themselves in an attempt to put their daughter on the throne. Cath isn’t interested in becoming a queen, however; instead, she wants to start her own bakery with her best friend and maid, Mary Anne. When Cath meets the king’s newest court jester, appropriately named Jest, their attraction is magnetic, and she is immediately swept up by his charm and mystique. Unbeknownst to Cath, Jest is on a mission from Chess, sent to steal the heart of a queen to save his homeland from the grips of war. To further complicate matters, a murderous jabberwock is terrorizing Hearts, its origins a mystery. Cath learns that once her fate is written in ink, she is powerless to stop it.
This book kept me guessing until the end. In fact, its conclusion was so unexpected to me that I checked to see if it was part of a series! It’s not, by the way. . . I loved Meyer’s cast of characters, many borrowed from Lewis Caroll’s book including the Cheshire Cat, the smoking caterpillar and the Mad “Hatta.” This is memorable, high fantasy fun, and I look forward to the release of Meyer’s new novel, Renegades on November 7 and her upcoming visit to the Spencer Road branch of the St. Charles City-County Public Library to promote it. Click here for event details. It’s free to attend!
A Fascinating Afternoon
Like Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland, Marissa Meyer’s Heartless includes a quirky and memorable tea party. In Heartless, the party is hosted by the Mad Hatta who is known for his unusual and magical hats. These hats play a crucial role in the action of the story. As soon as I read the tea party scene, I knew that it would be the inspiration for this week’s #plotdrivenlife experience. One of my favorite special things to do with several of my girlfriends is to get dressed up and enjoy high tea together. My friend Katie met Jane Muscroft, also known as “The Scone Lady” at a cooking class once upon a time, and learned that Jane, a Brit, also served high tea once a month in a rented space in St. Louis. So, my friends made it a tradition to get together for tea a few times a year, and we once drove to St. Louis in an ice storm, determined to keep our reservation! Recently, Jane opened her own cafe in Edwardsville, Illinois, called Queen’s Cuisine, and she continues to serve high tea on one Sunday each month. Checking our calendars, Katie, our friend Kris and I made plans to drive an hour to enjoy Jane’s delicious sandwiches, scones desserts and tea.
This was to be no typical tea party, however. We had to have hats! I have always loved the elegant and sometimes ridiculous nature of a fascinator hat, often worn by English royalty at fancy events, and I’ve wanted to make my own for years. I dug around on Pinterest for an evening and found two separate DIY tutorials for fascinators and decided I’d combine them. Click here and here for the tutorials.
With a vision of the final product, I took a field trip to Hobby Lobby to purchase supplies. An hour later, I was heating up my new glue gun, feeling like a giddy contestant on Project Runway.
The hats are pretty tame, but I’m proud of how they turned out, and I think Kris and Katie looked beautiful in them.
At Queen’s Cuisine, we filled our bellies with divine treats and just enjoyed each other’s company. High tea is a rare splurge for us which is why we packed Tupperware so we could take home the leftovers!
What special traditions do you have with your own friends? Post in the comments.