Ordinary Beauty

Ordinary Beauty

by Laura Wiess


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Lauded by critics and authors for her heartbreakingly real heroines, Laura Wiess brings readers another devastating tale of betrayal and redemption rich with the raw emotion that made Such a Pretty Girl a classic.

How can you make someone love you when they won’t?

And what if that person happens to be your mother?

Sayre Bellavia grew up knowing she was a mistake: unplanned and unwanted. At five months shy of eighteen, she’s become an expert in loneliness, heartache, and neglect. Her whole life she’s been cursed, used, and left behind. Swallowed a thousand tears and ignored a thousand deliberate cruelties. Sayre’s stuck by her mother through hell, tried to help her, be near her, be important to her even as her mother slipped away into a violent haze of addiction, destroying the only chance Sayre ever had for a real family.

Now her mother is lying in a hospital bed, near death, ravaged by her own destructive behavior. And as Sayre fights her way to her mother’s bedside, she is terrified but determined to get the answer to a question no one should ever have to ask: Did my mother ever really love me? And what will Sayre do if the answer is yes?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439193969
Publisher: MTV Books
Publication date: 06/14/2011
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 8.02(w) x 5.40(h) x 0.84(d)
Age Range: 13 - 17 Years

About the Author

Laura Wiess is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Such a Pretty Girl, chosen as one of the ALA’s 2008 Best Books for Young Adults and 2008 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, and Leftovers. Originally from Milltown, New Jersey, she traded bumper-to-bumper traffic, excellent pizza, and summer days down the shore for scenic roads, bears, no pizza delivery, and the irresistible allure of an old stone house surrounded by forests in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains Region. Email Laura Wiess at laura@laurawiess.com or visit http://www.laurawiess.com for more information.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Ordinary Beauty includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Seven years ago, Sayre Bellavia had everything she could ever want. But when her mother’s relapse meets with unexpected tragedy, Sayre’s life is consumed by her mother’s addiction and neglect. When fate lands Sayre in the truck of a wounded stranger with an out-of-service phone, she finds herself reliving some of the best and worst memories of her upbringing, including the year that changed everything. And time is running out—not just for Sayre’s mother, but for Sayre’s chance to finally speak her piece.


1. One of the overarching themes in Ordinary Beauty is identity. How would Sayre describe herself? What does she think of her last name, Bellavia? How do other characters in the book struggle with identity?

2. Why is Sayre so intent on feeding the kitten in the beginning of the story, especially when she barely has enough food for herself? What kind of symbolism do animals represent throughout Ordinary Beauty?

3. When Evan swerves into a ditch to avoid hitting Sayre, she stays with him until help arrives—even when Candy tries to take her to the hospital to see her mother. Why does Sayre consider her promise to stay with Evan so unbreakable? How do the themes of trust and loyalty develop throughout the story?

4. Discuss the relationship between Dianne and Candy. Does their friendship resemble any relationship anything in your own life? In what ways is it healthy and unhealthy?

5. How would you characterize Sayre’s self-deprecation? How does her mother influence it? Which other characters have a powerful effect on Sayre’s self-esteem?

6. Red tells Sayre “There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.” (p. 107) Why is Sayre so hesitant to talk about her pain? Can you pinpoint any events with her mother that may have influenced this reluctance?

7. After her brief time on Sunrise Road, Sayre clings to the blissful memories of life with Beale, Aunt Loretta, and Ellie. Do you have a happy memory of your own that you feel you can never reclaim? How does living in the past affect Sayre’s emotional health? Is it helpful or hurtful?

8. In what moment does it become clear to Sayre that her mother is really dying? Why is this realization significant?

9. Sayre refers to Queen Anne’s lace as “clean and pure and safe.” (p. 156) How does this description fit into the larger themes of Ordinary Beauty?

10. When Sayre brings home an A+ on a homework assignment, Beale calls her a “genius,” but Sayre’s mother is not impressed. Why does Sayre’s success bother Dianne so much? Can you think of any other reasons why Dianne would resent her own daughter?

11. Can you name any redeeming qualities about Sayre’s mother, Dianne? Why is it so difficult to see beyond anything but the addict—even during the time she was clean, sober, and happy? Can you think of other identities that cloud our judgment of someone’s true character?

12. How did you react to the narrative structure in Ordinary Beauty? How do you think it relates to the story itself?

13. Why did Sayre decide on her last words to be Love you,’bye to her mother?

14. After reading Ordinary Beauty, has your understanding of addiction and its influence on those involved changed in any way? Why or why not? Have you ever known anyone who has battled this disease or do you yourself have any personal experience with addiction? If so, where there any parts of Sayre’s story that especially resonated?

15. Discuss the title, Ordinary Beauty. What were your assumptions about the book when you began reading? How would you characterize the title now?


1. Volunteer for a day at your local animal shelter. Like Sayre, who loved animals of all kinds, spend time with and care for strays and other unwanted cats and dogs. You might even find your own Stormy.

2. Bring your book club on a wilderness adventure and find a spot with Queen Anne’s lace. Discuss Ordinary Beauty in the company of its most prominent symbol.

3. Read one of Laura Wiess’s other books, Such a Pretty Girl, Leftovers, or How It Ends. Discuss any parallels it has with Ordinary Beauty. Which one did you like better?

4. Visit Laura Wiess’s website, www.laurawiess.com. Learn about her past works, favorite activities, and upcoming appearances.

Customer Reviews

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Ordinary Beauty 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
XXXOOOBookwormOOOXXX More than 1 year ago
Perhaps it is the graphic realism Wiess paints into her stories or the depressing realization that there are people out there in the real world who could be just as selfish and just as cruel. And yet, Sayre's story is one of inspiration. Of finding a single blade of fresh-cut hay in a stack of needles. Sayre's life in this book is not pretty, and it is a perfect depiction of the tough lives some kids are forced to live due to parents' bad choices and selfishness. The story takes the form of Sayre trying to reach her dying mother in the hospital on a wintry night, forced into reflection about the past and her own deepest need to feel love or to receive closure from her mother. Witness to a horrible car wreck, on the way to the hospital she is ultimately forced to open up to two complete strangers (and, thus, herself) about the hideousness of what has taken place in her life. I absolutely loved this book, although I hated many of the characters in it -- and that's the sign of one of the world's best authors. I'm normally pretty easy going, but I felt real hate for Sayre's mother and her friend Candy. I actually growled out loud at one point while reading Ordinary Beauty! I haven't hated a character in a book this much since, well, since Meredith's mother in Wiess's Such a Pretty Girl. Or Mike's mom in When To Give Up On Life And Child by K S Michaels. This is a great read, I highly recommend.   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thisis a book about the relationship between a neglected young girl and a druggy mother. It is very heartwarming book
booktwirps on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book hit me hard. I can¿t even begin to explain the emotions it brings up. I was lucky enough to be raised in a very loving family, and it makes my heart ache to know that there really are kids out there that have to endure this type of life. Wiess paints such vivid pictures of Sayre¿s tragic life, you feel like you are living it yourself. This book is extremely well-crafted, honest and gut-wrenching. I couldn¿t put it down, and it is one that I will more than likely pick up again. While heartbreaking and gritty, it is also a beautiful story of hope and forgiveness. This book does deal with some tough subject matter, but older, more mature teens can handle it.
jonilee73 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story hit me hard. There were times in this book that I had to put it down and walk away. I received this in the mail about a week ago and it has taken me that long to get through it. Not because it was a bad book. On the contrary, Laura Wiess has done it again by creating a startlingly honest novel about something people know happens but choose to ignore. I am sure we have all seen the kid in school with the dirty clothes who seems to never bathe and most people, at least at my old school, blamed the kid for the way they appeared. But this story brings up the point that it's not the child's choice to live that way. You have no idea what goes on behind closed doors. In this story the main character, Sayre has lived with her mother and her mother's addictions her whole life. Her mother is an alcoholic and has been addicted to meth and is now addicted to pain pills. She has never taken care of Sayre, and spends every cent they have on her addictions. To say this girl had an awful life is not even the half of it. At one point her mother's best friend tried to kill her with a hammer. A neighbor called the police and her mother was arrested but as soon as her mother was released, Sayre was made to live with her again. That's one of the most disturbing thing about this story. Though no one knew everything that was going on, people knew enough and yet they never did anything to stop it. Now, Sayre is 17 and her mother is in the hospital dying of liver failure. Sayre is determined that before her mother dies to find out the truth once and for all. A question no child should ever have to ask. Did my mother ever love me? This book is haunting. For me on personal levels. My own mother was an addict. She gave me up and I lived with my grandparents and then after they fell ill, I moved in with distant cousins. But reading this book was like reading the way my life could have turned out. The fact that things like this happen, that there are children out there living a life close to how Sayre lives is heartbreaking. There is not one person out there that can read this story and not be haunted by it. All in all, a breathtaking, haunting, amazing story. Laura Wiess has done it again.
Dazzlamb More than 1 year ago
ORDINARY BEAUTY is the story of Sayre Bellavia - this is a very beautiful name, don't you think? Her life has never been like any other teen's life. It wasn't easy with a mother who was on drugs or alcohol and Sayre wasn't even given the chance at normalcy or a careless childhood. Her mother has never wanted Sayre in her life, and she's experienced so many violent scenes in her young life it's deeply saddening. When I started this book, I was expecting to get more of a contemporary love story and less a portrait of a troubled family. It was both, though the romance is more subtle. At some point Sayre's past and the mystery around what had to happen to turn every good thing into something full of hatred and disappointment, simply draws you into the story. I was shocked at how her mother treated Sayre - it is really bad and would surely make every loving mother furious - and the strong person she became nontheless. She never gave up and despite her past she's still become an intelligent and warmhearted young adult. She must have had something in her that resisted all the darkness and filth around her. Note that ORDINARY BEAUTY contains explicit content and various scenes with sexual or abusive - emotional and physical - relationships and usage of drugs. 4,5/5 ***** ORDINARY BEAUTY -A story about the terrible and tragic tests of faith and life and a girl one cannot but love! This is the portrait of a family who experienced many hardships in life and Sayre, the girl who could be the family's only hope at something better, something strong and pure. In the beginning I didn't think I'd love ORDINARY BEAUTY as much as I did in the end, which was all thanks to Sayre and her impressive volition.
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Candace-LoveyDoveyBooks More than 1 year ago
Ordinary Beauty really took me by surprise in the way of how many strong emotions it invoked from me. Sayre had a love interest, but the story was solely about Sayre's idea of love and how she dealt with her mother issues. One thing that really touched me in this story was Sayre's ability to love other people even though she always felt unwanted and unloved. Her attitude is rare and many kids in her situation probably couldn't develop one as optimistic as hers. Her mother, though well written, was unbelievably horrible - just saying. She made Sayre who she is, and at times I wondered what she really thought about life. I broke down every time Sayre mentioned singing her "Ellie, Ellie" song. The way Laura Wiess wrote about Sayre's friendships and relationships, especially with Beale, was so passionate and heartfelt. I really appreciated delving into Sayre's memories and learning about her life and how her experiences carried with her through childhood. I enjoyed reading this novel, which I had to read at home so people walking past me at school wouldn't think I was crazy for crying over a book, and Sayre is probably the strongest character I've had the privilege of reading about in while.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Made me hug my daughter and miss my mom.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
A hard book from the start for many reasons. A deep and dark subject matter with very rough characters and I just couldn't get into the story at the beginning, but once in the middle, I couldn't stop. A young adult who has endured the hardest childhood, but through it all is still able to find a hope for a different and better future for herself. I was straight appalled at the life she had to live with an abusive and alcoholic mother. It hurt me so much to see her stay there through all of the abuse because no child should have to live through the words she heard from her mother. With the ups and the downs, I was clueless as to how this book would end. At first, I wasn't so sure on how it was written. You meet Sayre in present day, but there are short glimpses into her past and then towards the middle you find out the details of her past. As I refuse to ruin this book - the way the story unfolds is priceless. A book for young and old alike - I had moments where I was angry and moments where my heart ached for this girl. A definite read, just take a moment to get into the meat of the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
good book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
it has been a great pleasure to see your book on this website.. it was a superb work
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nurse97 More than 1 year ago
I sat down and started reading this book and couldn't put it down. After reading this it just made u realize that this does happen to young people! buy this book its worth it and will be looking to see what this author has written.
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OtotheD More than 1 year ago
Every once in a while a book comes along that hits me so hard it leaves me speechless. Laure Wiess' Ordinary Beauty is exactly that type of book. Sayre Bellavia is lost in the shadows. At seventeen-years-old she's lived a horrific life at the hands of an alcoholic, drug-addicted mother that has never told Sayre she loves her. Her mother got pregnant at fifteen and left Sayre with her grandmother to raise. When she passes away her mother comes back into the picture and eventually takes her to live with her in a meth house. When Sayre is ten, she finally finds hope when the house is raided and her mother is sent to rehab, putting her with a temporary foster mother who shows her more love in the few weeks she is there than she has ever seen in her life. When her mother is finally let out of rehab, Sayre hopes for a new start, but that doesn't last long and she soon finds herself once again at her mother's mercy as she slips back into her alcohol and drugs. When the book begins Sayre is told that her mother, whom she hasn't seen in weeks, is in the hospital dying of liver failure and wants to see her one last time. The book flashes between the past and the present, as she travels to the hospital to say goodbye to the person who should have loved her most, but has only caused her pain. This book hit me hard. I can't even begin to explain the emotions it brings up. I was lucky enough to be raised in a very loving family, and it makes my heart ache to know that there really are kids out there that have to endure this type of life. Wiess paints such vivid pictures of Sayre's tragic life, you feel like you are living it yourself. This book is extremely well-crafted, honest and gut-wrenching. I couldn't put it down, and it is one that I will more than likely pick up again. While heartbreaking and gritty, it is also a beautiful story of hope and forgiveness. This book does deal with some tough subject matter, but older, more mature teens can handle it.