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This Place is Still Beautiful – XiXi Tian

Thank you so much to the publishers and Netgalley for sending me an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Despite having had near-identical upbringings, sisters Annalie and Margaret agree on only one thing: that they have nothing in common. Nineteen-year-old Margaret is driven, ambitious, and keenly aware of social justice issues. She couldn’t wait to leave their oppressive small-town home and take flight in New York. Meanwhile sweet, popular, seventeen-year-old Annalie couldn’t think of anything worse – she loves their town, and feels safe coasting along in its confines.

That is, until she arrives home one day to find a gut-punching racial slur painted on their garage door.

Outraged, Margaret flies home, expecting to find her family up in arms. Instead, she’s amazed to hear they want to forget about it. Their mom is worried about what it might stir up, and Annalie just wants to have a ‘normal’ summer – which Margaret is determined to ruin, apparently.

This Place is Still Beautiful is a deeply moving and powerful debut novel that is beautifully written. It is told from the perspectives of two sisters, who are polar opposites of each other. Each of them has their own strong and unique voice. This means they both deal with the aftermath of their family being a target of a racially motivated hate crime in different ways.

This story centres around the racially motivated hate crime committed on the main characters family but it has a lot more to it as well. Margaret is the older sister and is ready to fight for her family after the hate crime is committed. Annalie, the younger sister, wants to forget the hate crime happened and move on. The discussion around race that comes due to this and the harm that the hate crime causes is such a prominent part of this story but it leads to so many other discussions.

We read about the characters as they navigate their town full of memories and hurt. As a reader you quite often, readers are suddenly hit hard by the difficulties these characters are facing and the emotions that come with that. The hate crime forces the characters to confront their differences and other people’s opinions on both racism and race.

I loved that due to alternating POVs we get to see the events occurring from both Margaret and Annalie’s views. My favourite POV was Margaret’s. I feel I related to her as she is an older sister, like myself, and her reaction to events in this book would be similar to my own. At times Margaret comes across as unlikeable but it is actually that that made her more likeable for me. As the story progresses you see why she has reacted the way she has. Also, her romance storyline is heart-breaking. I truly felt for her and wanted nothing but the best for her.

Annalie’s POV took me a while to get into. I think because I took an instant dislike to the boy she has a crush on. Annalie is very different from her sister and wants to hide away from the truth of the hate crime. As the story continued I grew to like Annalie’s POV more and more. At the end of the story I wanted nothing but the best for both sisters.

The family elements of this book are excellent. I can see so many people reading this book and relating to Annalie and Margaret’s family situation and how their race has affected how they’ve grown up. I loved watching the sister’s relationship grow and change throughout the book. Also, the way in which we see Margaret’s turbulent relationship with her mother change was incredibly moving.

We see how the hare crime affects the family and how each member digests, views and deal with it. Readers see that the hate crime doesn’t define the characters. It merely happened to them and now they have to deal with the impact of it as they try to move forward in their lives.

This is Still Beautiful is a YA aimed at the more mature reader. This is due to the subject matters and how some of the topics are discussed. It is such a timely story which will create important discussions. I feel this book and its topics are something that we don’t see enough of. It doesn’t just discuss racist conflicts but also sibling issues, navigating complicated parental dynamics and even topics surrounding white-passing and much more.

Overall, This Place is Still Beautiful is an impactful and poignant novel that is extremely relevant in today’s world. I cannot recommend it enough. It a book bound to open so many eyes and shine light on a number of issues not usually discussed in YA. I will be on the lookout for more books by XiXi Tian because she is definitely an author to watch.

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