Beautiful Americans, Lucy Silag’s debut novel, follows four American exchange students through their first semester in Paris, alternating chapters from each of their points of view. Alex is a spoiled, self-centered, and shallow New Yorker who wants to be sophisticated and French and get a boyfriend in Paris, too. She’s also a complete bitch to most people most of the time. PJ is a quiet girl from Vermont who is in Paris to run from problems at home. She’s having a little trouble enjoying Paris because she’s still tied up with all the problems at home, and her host family has ulterior motives and are not exactly stellar people. Zack is a nice guy who’s relieved to be away from his conservative hometown in Tennessee, because he’s not particularly Christian and also not particularly straight (but not out to the world yet). He’d also like to find romance in Paris! Olivia is a dancer from San Diego who has come to Paris to improve her chances at a ballet scholarship from UCLA, where her boyfriend, Vince, goes to school.
That’s each of them in a nutshell. They are fairly well-developed and interesting characters, and I enjoyed reading about their time in Paris, but their voices were indistinct. I kept having to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to see who was narrating, and that’s not something that I like to do. I was also excited to read a book set in an amazing city, but Paris is most often a barely-noticeable backdrop to this story, something else that disappointed me. I was hoping to see Paris come alive; but, no. Or, at least, very rarely. This book also wasn’t as complete as I’d have preferred; it uses a bit of a cliffhanger to make the reader want more, and I prefer books that don’t have to use cliffhangers to keep the reader interested in the next book in the series.
From all I’ve said, you’d think I didn’t like the book, but that wasn’t the case; I really enjoyed it. I was caught up in the engaging stories and I can’t wait to read the second book in the series, and I’m hoping that the writing will improve (particularly, as I said, the characters’ voices). I liked that all the characters seemed to get equal time; sometimes, books focusing on multiple characters make me feel like some characters didn’t need to be main characters or like I’m not getting enough from certain characters, but I didn’t feel that way here (though I, like everyone else will, have my favorites of the four). I enjoyed all four of them, though. But maybe I would have liked it better if there were different books focusing on the different characters rather than different chapters; some things in all sections felt glossed-over or rushed.
This is an entertaining (if not particularly memorable) novel, and I’ll be looking forward to the next book in the series.
Three out of five windows: