“Sarah Burke is just about perfect. She’s got killer blue eyes, gorgeous blond hair, and impeccable grades. There’s just one tiny-all right, enormous-flaw: her nose. But even that’s not so bad. Sarah’s got the best best friend and big goals for print journalism fame.
On the first day of senior year, Rock Conway walks into her journalism class and, well, rocks her world. Problem is, her best friend, Kristen, falls for him too. And when Rock and Kristen stand together, it’s like Barbie and Ken come to life. So when Kristen begs Sarah to help her nab Rock, Sarah does the only thing a best friend can do-she agrees. For someone so smart, what was she thinking?”
The premise of Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac stirs up my shy, hopeless romantic tendencies; it also punches my buttons, namely those labeled exasperation and anger derived from sympathy. Lara Chapman’s Flawless, a role reversing, modern retelling of the Cyrano story, was a most welcome change of pace from the typical trio of Austen, Bronte and Shakespeare, conveying a healthy dose of charm if not depth.
Sarah Burke’s perceived imperfection is true to Cyrano form: she has a large nose. As a young girl, Sarah made a conscious decision to embrace her nose, opting to deflect taunts and teasing with bold humor or cultivated ignorance of the offender. If a slight slipped under her armor, Sarah drew on her reserves: her ambition, her love of literature, or her longtime best friend, Kristen. Like Cyrano before her, Sarah is the type of character that will resonate with a varied selection of readers. And of Flawless’ small cast, she is the most well-defined, the only one to experience growth and, as a result, the only one that came across as a complicated, flawed individual.
One of the few issues I had with Flawless was the slight emotional heft of other key players, namely Kristen and, to a lesser extent, Rock. Kristen is gorgeous, smart if not driven, and devoted to defending her friend. The reader is aware of each tick in Kristen’s pro column because we are told as much, only witnessing the latter on a few occasions during the course of the story. The one instance that could have peeled away the superficial to reveal Kristen’s depth of character for good or ill was unfortunately glossed over; it was shoved under the rug too quickly to take note of as anything more than a missed opportunity or a ploy to show off Sarah’s buried self-doubt to its best advantage. Maintaining a friendship isn’t always a clean, easy affair; occasionally a mess will clutter the path, a mistake will be made, and realigning the pieces that broke apart as a result strengthens the bond. Sarah and Kristen’s friendship read as too sweet, unreasonable even, leaving me to struggle with the exasperation and anger I felt over Sarah’s willingness to go to such lengths for Kristen, which in turn has forever been the one aspect of the Cyrano story that poked me with a stick, and that despite the fact that I understand why it needs to happen for the Cyrano character to achieve epiphany in the context of the story. <deep breath>
As for Rock, his role was to play the catalyst for Sarah’s emotional growth, and as such I could accept that he was smart and compassionate, the gorgeous golden boy able to look past a big nose to see the whole person and not only like the entire package but appreciate it.
At this point you may be thinking Was she lying when she mentioned that “healthy dose of charm”? No, I wasn’t. Call me contrary if you will, but the romance – bolstered by palpable longing, sweet written exchanges, and the anticipation of Sarah’s happily ever after – worked. That’s the magic of the Cyrano story: It may get under my skin, but it never fails to make me sigh in the end. Also, Sarah’s growth was realistic; she connected motivation to action, pulled off her blinders, and earned her happy ending. There’s something to admire in Sarah, and I appreciated it. At the end, my own inner Cyrano smiled and, yes, there was that sigh.