This Place is Still Beautiful
Balzer + Bray
Published June 7, 2022
Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads
About This Place is Still Beautiful
Two sisters. A shocking racist incident. The summer that will change both of their lives forever.
Despite having had near-identical upbringings, sisters Annalie and Margaret agree on only one thing: that they have nothing in common. Nineteen-year-old Margaret is driven, ambitious, and keenly aware of social justice issues. She couldn’t wait to leave their oppressive small-town home and take flight in New York. Meanwhile sweet, popular, seventeen-year-old Annalie couldn’t think of anything worse – she loves their town, and feels safe coasting along in its confines.
That is, until she arrives home one day to find a gut-punching racial slur painted on their garage door.
Outraged, Margaret flies home, expecting to find her family up in arms. Instead, she’s amazed to hear they want to forget about it. Their mom is worried about what it might stir up, and Annalie just wants to have a ‘normal’ summer – which Margaret is determined to ruin, apparently.
Back under each other’s skins, things between Margaret and Annalie get steadily worse – and not even the distraction of first love (for Annalie), or lost love (for Margaret) can bring them together.
Until finally, a crushing secret threatens to tear them apart forever.
I love sister books. THIS PLACE IS STILL BEAUTIFUL gives us both sister’s points of view, which I absolutely loved. I’m sure there are other books that have done this, but I can’t think of any right now.
Margaret and Annalie are so different from one another, and we really get to see that in action as we go back and forth between their perspectives. But we also get to see something the girls seem (especially at first) unaware of: the way they admire each other’s strengths.
They grew up in a mostly white southern Illinois town, feeling different, and responding to it differently. We watch them reflect on moments they faced racist or prejudiced comments or behavior. We learn why they reacted so differently when someone painted a racist slur on their garage door.
Watching both girls navigate the aftermath of that night really gripped me. I think it might be easy for some readers to dismiss what happened as not serious, as some of the characters in the book do. But walking in Margaret and Annalie’s shoes gives us the chance to sidestep our own prejudices and listen. Really listen. If we do that, we hear a story that resonates with us all: two girls who have a right to feel safe, respected, and loved in their community.
Though the plot centers around uncovering the truth about the graffiti on the door, THIS PLACE IS STILL BEAUTIFUL offers so much more. It is part love story, part tribute to a rural small town, and part story about finding your voice and discovering who you want to be and what that means.
All in all, I am a huge fan of this book, and I am really excited to see what XiXi Tian writes next. I think fans of Rachel Lynn Solomon’s YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE or YOU’VE REACHED SAM by Dustin Thao will love this book.
Content warning for use of a racial slur, some racist comments and behavior and teen drinking.
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
Annalie and Margaret are Chinese on their mom’s side. Annalie’s best friend, Violet, is Filipino. Margaret’s ex-boyfriend Rajiv is Indian. Other characters are white.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently.
Kissing between boy and girl. In one scene, it’s clear the boy wants to have sex, and the girl stops him because she isn’t ready. In another scene, a boy and girl kiss, collapse into his bed and the scene cuts to later, after they’ve had sex.
A racist slur appears spray-painted on the front of Annalie and Margaret’s garage. In one scene, Annalie confronts a boy who charges toward her aggressively before they are interrupted.
Teens drink alcohol at a party. Annalie gets drunk. References to Margaret drinking alcohol while away at college.
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