Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
Books about family life are books about real life, for me. This Beautiful Life feels very realistic. It could have been a bit more emotional, though, given the topic of the book.

The book is very well-written – a real beauty!

This Beautiful Life: What it is about

Liz and Richard have recently moved from Ithaca to New York City and their teenage son, Jake, and adopted Chinese daughter Coco, have settled into their new school.

When a girl who forces herself upon Jake at a party sends him an email the next day, his whole life and that of his family changes irrevocably: the girl included a video of herself performing porn acts. Not knowing how to react, Jake forwards it to a friend and by the end of the weekend it’s all over the internet.

The girl’s parents threaten to sue while the Jake’s school expels him.

Liz, Jake’s mother, was already struggling to be part of Coco’s school community while Jake’s father Richard is trying to get a big project approved. Jake’s actions threaten both parents’ acceptance in their respective communities.

The book looks at issues as: Are Richard and Liz good parents? How does 5-year old Coco fare under all the upheaval? Is Jake the culprit here, or should the blame be all on the girl?

This Beautiful Life: What I thought

I enjoyed reading this book but I was never gripped. It felt a bit flat for me, no heart-wrenching emotions, and there should have been. Yes, the main characters all had their scala of emotions but somehow they didn’t transfer to me, the reader. It’s like I watched and saw it all from a distance.

I find it really hard to decide to give 4 or 5 stars, as I did think the book was very good – the story, the way it was written, it can’t be faulted. Since some element of emotion was missing for me, I decided for 4 stars.

There were three main characters: the parents, Liz and Richard, and the teenage son, Jake. The story is alternately told from their points of view. None of these I felt enough sympathy for to care a lot about their feelings. Maybe this is where the book becomes less than perfect for me.

On the good side, the book was exquisitely and brilliantly written. The atmosphere of the book reminded me somewhat of On Beauty by Zadie Smith (family, affluent, moved elsewhere, teenage kid).

A really good, rather serious read about teenage life, family life and parenting.

Rating: 4/5 stars

I got this book: from Harper for review (ARC)

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 240

First published: 2011 (August)

Genre: literary fiction

About Judith
I'm owner and editor at and We edit books and articles for independent writers.

18 Responses to Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

  1. Cindy says:

    It’s a very believable scenario, given the electronic age we are living in. Quite terrifying for a parent, I should think!

  2. I’ve seen this one mentioned several times, but I haven’t heard from anyone who had actually read it. It’s nice to hear about it from a reliable source. I read a book that had a similar feel to it this weekend. I think you’d like it, though it may not be gripping. It’s called Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward. It’s from Random House. You should give it a try.

  3. Nadine Nys says:

    I often wonder why books that are beautifully written and that deal with issues you are interested in, fail to draw you in. I’ve had similar experiences, Judith, and I really would like to know why that is.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Nadine, I was thinking maybe the author tries not to make it sentimental, but overdoes it maybe? It’s one thing to write a book where readers can’t stop crying for half the book, but something where you feel a little nudge, a little “Oh!” wouldn’t harm, sometimes.

      • I think you are right, Judith, too little emotion so that you never feel involved… Whatever, I don’t like books like that. Luckily there are many others 🙂

  4. That’s my life right now, too! Maybe the narrator’s “reserve” was supposed to be part of the story? But if it didn’t resonate with you, that is a problem for the author. Thanks for the great review!

  5. I have this one on my wishlist, really need to get round to it!

  6. shelleyrae@ Book'd Out says:

    I just read the blurb for this on the Goodreads new release email and was debating whether i’d be interested or not. With a teenage girl who spends most of her time on Facebook or MSN it’s of topical interest to me. Given your recommendation I’ve added it to my TBR


  7. Uniflame says:

    Ooh I think I will be adding this to my wishlist, see if I like it 🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      I’m not sure whether you’ll like it, Uniflame. From what I know of your taste in books, I have the feeling you may not. But then, if it sounds good to you, do give it a try!

  8. Athira says:

    I read a review of this book the other day and am glad to see you rate it high too. The premise has me curious and I just might give it a try next month.

  9. Pingback: Bid and Win This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman this October | Freado Blog

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