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Judy Doenges' brilliant first novel is the deeply affecting story of Robin Simonsen, a girl growing up in the 1960s and '70s on the wrong side of a Chicago suburb. After the death of her young mother, Robin is left with her kind but irresponsible father—a junkman turned drug dealer—and her grandmother, a retired Vegas showgirl, both of whom draw local fixers and ex-cons into the Simonsens' increasingly shady home life. Bright, wise, and observant, Robin is the quiet outsider to her hedonistic family, struggling to come to terms with her ardent love for girls.
Trapped in a house scarily alive with a rogues' gallery of hapless and often hilarious crooks, misfits, and hangers-on, Robin must look elsewhere for stability, befriending the son of the neighborhood's only African American family—a boy whose unimpeachable manners and flawless grades mask his own sexuality—and falling in love with the high-school beauty.
Wry, edgy, and smart, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World offers a new kind of young heroine, one who stands fearlessly at the precipice of her family's and her town's self-destruction, fighting to save herself.
"In her first novel, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, Doenges continues her incomparable and unshakably honest explorations of apparently ordinary people through the eyes of Robin, a teenager whose quiet rebellions camouflage a private life of vivid, unshakeable desires. A first novel of great truth and resonance."
—Lan Samantha Chang, author of Inheritance
"The characters in this feisty, colorful story of "the Me Decade" may be self-indulgent, but the writing never is. Doenges renders her young heroine's yearnings with such exhilarating perception and control that she makes desire seem at once more understandable and more mysterious. How could a novel about want be so satisfying?"
—Michael Lowenthal, author of Avoidance
"The Most Beautiful Girl in the World works some crazy magic, managing to turn drug dealing, sexual awakening, and family dysfunction into a story of tenderness and warmth. Where many other writers would wallow in self-pity Judy Doenges finds a way to be both honest and oddly celebratory about her characters. She's a generous writer and that's rare."
—Victor LaValle, author of The Ecstatic
"I read Judy Doenges' first novel in an almost dreamlike state of absorption. The atmosphere of small-town 1970's demimonde is sharp and authoritative. Doenges' tale of sexual awakening is enlivened by some of the most arresting prose I've seen from a contemporary; line by line, chapter by chapter, this book is a thrilling testament to Doenges' monumental talent."
—Jennifer Egan, author of Look at Me, The Keep, The Invisible Circus, and Emerald City: Stories
"Riveting . . . . [A] vivid exploration of a girl trying to make sense of life on the edge . . . . Judy Doenges' prose shimmers."
". . . a cleverly wrought tale of longing and self-discovery."
—Glen Young, Petoskey News
"The Most Beautiful Girl in the World is not only about a girl becoming a woman but about a woman struggling to be heard in a chorus of lost souls. As memorable as it is sad, it's an elegant story about what it takes to move past a wounded childhood and become the person you were meant to be—more than merely a girl, interrupted."
—Clayton Moore, Rocky Mountain News
"The writing is flawless, and the story moving. Robin Simonsen is a girl growing up on the poor side of the tracks during the 1960s and 70s. . . . Sometimes edgy and always intelligent, The Most Beautiful Girl is a most wonderful book, and Robin is a most amazing heroine."
—Bay Windows (Boston)
"[Doenges] is a talented writer with a sharp, telling eye . . ."
—The Seattle Times
"Meet Robin Simonsen, a young girl trying to come to terms with her own sexuality in a household where chaos seems to be the general rule. . . . Looking elsewhere for stability and seeking solace wherever she can find it, Robin's journey of self-discovery is one the reader won't easily forget."
—Robert Francis, Aptos & Capitola Times
". . . a first-rate novel. . . ."
"Are the laws of nature different for beautiful girls? Robin Simonsen, the heroine of Judy Doenges' wry and poignant Bildugsroman, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, comes to think so. . . . Robin's world is populated by believable characters that many readers may recognize from their own lives. Her blundering transition into adulthood is sure to haunt such readers for some time after they've closed this book."
—Martha Miller, Gay & Lesbian Review/Worldwide