March 24, 2017

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined

Written by Danielle Younge-Ullman
368 pp.
Ages 13-17
February 2017
After, I stand for a few moments looking out over the water, the moon reflecting off its glass-like surface.  It's beautiful, yes.  But the beauty doesn't reach me the way it's supposed to because I feel like it's been shoved down my throat.  I register the stark gorgeousness of the dying day, and what it fills me with is unease, and an ominous sensation of cracking inside–of cracking open, of a corresponding excruciating pain I have kept at bay by incredible discipline beginning to seep toward the surface. (pg. 87)
Ingrid Burke must feel like she's been deposited in another world, and one not of her choosing.  In fact, not even one like in the brochure her mother, retired opera singer Margot-Sophia Lalonde, had shown her of Peak Wilderness, an outdoors camp in northern Ontario, to which Ingrid has agreed to go so her mother would permit her attendance at a prestigious music school in London England.  Worse yet, Ingrid, who perceives herself to be “a model citizen and paragon of stability” (pg. 53) compared to the miscellany of other troubled youth campers, must survive three weeks of hiking, canoeing, roughing it, and sharing under the supervision of leaders Pat and Bonnie who seem to enjoy the group’s failures at near impossible tasks.

What happened that led Ingrid to this challenging and repeatedly dangerous situation is told in alternating chapters, organized by Ingrid's age, that speak to her life before Peak Wilderness.  They tell of her life travelling the world with her famous mother and then, after damage to Margot-Sophia’s vocal chords leads them home to Toronto,  the reversal of roles when Margot-Sophia is overcome with depression.  Revealed slowly but with ease are Ingrid’s experiences at school and home, feeling vulnerable and frustrated, fearful and positive, and her attempts to achieve normalcy and some happiness. Eventually we also learn what led her to Peak Wilderness.

My words cannot do justice to the depth of Danielle Younge-Ullman's characterizations and story-telling.  There is so much to share with readers that my words seem sparse and ineffective. But I can tell you that Danielle Younge-Ullman weaves Ingrid’s present and past into a fabric of ordinary and extraordinary, creating a life of tenacity to which most of us could aspire.  Though Ingrid doesn’t want to acknowledge the vulnerabilities that brought her to the camp, Danielle Younge-Ullman provides hints throughout the story–Isaac, an axe and an injured leg–that there is more to the teen’s story than she reveals to others and even to herself.  Her go-to survival mechanisms include a strained positivity –“How exciting, and what a magnificent opportunity to get in touch with my inner savage” (pg. 29)– and silence with a dose of denial.  But beyond Ingrid’s inner turmoil are the relationships the teen has with her mother, her new father, a boy with whom she has a connection, and all the campers.  These relationships drive Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined.  They ebb and flow, both serene and passionate, not unlike the music of a great opera that Margot-Sophia might have performed.  Though Ingrid might think she knows the music of her life really well, she’s just learning to perform it with passion so that she can make it successfully to the triumphant finish.   And Danielle Younge-Ullman makes sure that we want to stay for the whole performance without ever nodding off.


On May 6, 2017, Danielle Younge-Ullman will be speaking at the Stratford Writers Festival Young Adult forum along with numerous other YA authors.  I'll post about it here soon but you can get details at

I'll be there and you should be too!

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