This Place Is Still Beautiful

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jun. 2022. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063086029.
Gr 9 Up–This novel takes on one summer, two sisters, and an act of vandalism that will change everything. Annalie and Margaret are not the closest siblings, especially now that Margaret is away in college while Annalie is about to start her senior year of high school. Raised in a small Illinois town by their Chinese single mother, the three have a distant but courteous relationship. Their mom refuses to acknowledge their white dad who left early in their lives, and the girls navigate being biracial differently: Margaret has more obvious Asian features, while Annalie is white-passing. All is well until a racial slur is painted across their house. When Margaret returns to her hometown, she experiences the same passive-aggressiveness she gladly left behind, while Annalie is just trying to get through the summer and hopefully get close to her crush. Is this act of racism a reflection of everyone the girls know? Are they overreacting by calling the police? This story is told in alternating points of view, and a takeaway is how people of the same ethnicity live their realities based on their outward appearances. The girls and their mother also react differently towards the attack, be it wanting justice or wanting the attention to go away. Tian does an excellent job of portraying life in a small town for a minority, mined with microaggressions but with an undisputable love for their home. The characters are relatable, the plot flows well, and overall, this is a fantastic story.
VERDICT A great purchase for all high school collections.

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