Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Date: August 2013
Buy the Book • Goodreads
Her lips are white. Sixteen-year-old Sep stares into the bathroom mirror on the first day of school. It's not some weird lipstick (she never wears lipstick), she didn't bump her lips or chew on ice. Her lips are just white. In a panic, she digs up an old lipstick and smears it on her colorless lips. But soon, more and more white spots begin to bloom, spreading their chalky tendrils across her olive brown skin. Does she have a disease? Is she turning into some kind of freak?
Sep is usually the one who knows all the answers. With a quicksilver mind and a supple body, she's happiest when she's delving into the mysteries of animal biology or giving herself over to sweet, hot moves in Jazz Dance Club. Unlike her best friend, Devon, she's never been in a rush to get a boyfriend. But as the white blotches spread, her dating days, like the endangered species she studies, seem numbered. So when Josh, a boy she's always liked, makes a flirty advance, she wonders: why not grab pleasure while she can?
Frank, funny, and full of passion, this compelling novel tells the empowering story of a strong, gifted teen who, as her life spins out of control, desperately tries to prove to the world, and herself, that she is deeper than skin
Reviewed by: Mary
It’s a bit strange to me, but there’s a specific sub-genre of books about teenagers with diseases or medical conditions learning to cope with their lives being profoundly changed. If I had been an English major, I’m sure I could make a case for how it’s a metaphor for growing up. A fair number of these books are “teenagers with cancer who learn how to live before they die” type books, but sometimes you get one that plumps some of the odder depths of medical science. This can work very well, like the Judy Blume classic Deenie that explores scoliosis or Mango Shaped Space, which features a girl with synesthesia.
Or it can be a brave but failed attempt like Skin, where the main character Sep (pronounced Zep, short for Guiseppina) wakes up on the first day of her junior year with her lips having gone white sometime in the middle of the night. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that she has vitiligo, a condition where patches of skin lose their pigment.
I can’t say there are probably any other books out there about vitiligo, so on that front it’s a very original idea. But where Napoli goes with it is not particularly inventive and actually ends up being a little grating. I know teenagers can be overly dramatic and decide the world is ending over some pretty mundane things, but instead of feeling for Sep and her plight you just want to tell her to grow up and get some perspective.
It doesn’t help that the love story is done in a way where she never makes a single choice that really could be considered a good one. Everything is done because she’s decided that once her vitiligo gets bad enough she’ll be a “monster” and so she has to behave in a very specific way. And she does, and at that point I completely agreed with her assessment that she was a terrible person, but not because of her vitiligo but because she was acting like an idiot.
Napoli is normally a very good author, and I’ve njoyed other books of hers (I reviewed Bound for my own blog and I really liked it) but this one fell short of the mark. All I can say is that at least when Napoli is not reaching her full potential, she’s still very readable.