Reviewed by Giselle Carlos, age 17
This Place is Still Beautiful by Xixi Tian
Annalie and Margaret Flannagen have conflicting feelings toward their childhood home. Seventeen-year-old Annalie savors the Midwest—the small-town closeness of it all—while Margaret feels suffocated and claustrophobic. When Margaret moves to college at NYU, Annalie breathes a sigh of relief; her relationship with her sister has always been estranged due to their conflicting passions and perspectives on life. Annalie feels like Margaret is condescending towards her for not understanding what it means to truly embrace being viewed as Chinese, seeing as Annalie takes after their Irish-American father, and Margaret more their Chinese immigrant mother. However, when Annalie returns to find their home tagged with a bright red racial slur, her first instinct is to call her sister. As days pass by, Margaret vows to find who did this to their home and makes it a point to call out the town, while Annalie would much rather forget about it all. In this tale of sisterhood, young love, and race, Xixi Tian weaves a heartwarming and unforgettable story.
At its core, This Place is Still Beautiful is a study of race and boundaries—of whether something like a slur can be considered a “joke”, and the commonality of calling someone too sensitive for raising the issue in question. The relationship dynamic between Margaret and Annalie is tense, and Tian creates an atmosphere of palpable animosity while delicately balancing a string between the sisters wanting to grow closer. Romantic undertones give the book a breath of fresh air, effectively moving the plot forward but not overtaking the significance of the core topic. Margaret and Annalie also come face-to-face with their own faults and mistakes, growing and pushing themselves throughout the story in a way that subsequently makes them come face-to-face with the issues of their own relationship. Even an air of mystery lies around the novel as we wait to see who committed the racist and criminal act. Ultimately, Xixi Tian creates a multi-faceted novel that delicately addresses sensitive issues—discussions of race, family, and culture—without making any element too overpowering. This Place is Still Beautiful is a perfect read for one who wants something educational and deep yet also inspiring and heartwarming, executed with beautifully orchestrated writing on Tian’s part. Recommended for those 14 and older.
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