London, Bloomsbury, 2008, 277p
Everything Beautiful is set at a Christian camp in Australia. Riley is sent there by her parents, and is very reluctant to participate. She is an angry young woman, who has recently lost her mother, and now has to deal with an unwanted stepmother.
But she is not the boring, moody, rebellious teenager you find in so much teenage fiction. She knows the difference between right and wrong, and, more often than not, does follows the good path. She feels guilt and takes responsibility for her actions, sometimes as well as the actions of others in order to protect her friends. Her deviance comes in the form of sex and smoking, but it seems as if she does these things in order to find a place in society and find a release for her confusion. She does not act out of spite.
The religious elements are thankfully subtle. She does not undergo some dramatic conversion from athiest to Christian - the development of her character is more meaningful than that. Faith and spirituality presents itself in the form of friendship. On arrival at the camp, Riley is determined not to participate, and unwilling to make friends. She even has an escape plan, to get back to her home for a friend's party. But friendship creeps up on her, and she finds herself surrounded by support and love.
The novel is realistic, not your typical over dramatic teenage angst story. Riley is resentful of religion, but this is not exaggerated beyond belief. Her narrative voice is witty and emotional, making use of teenage slang and other terminology. I was expecting a religious conversion; but the story is believable, her development is natural, and the ending is optimistic.