When a video made by 16-year-old Sloane Kendrick for a school project goes viral on YouTube, she is presented with the opportunity to apply to a prestigious film school. With only two weeks to complete a new video for her application, she sets out to find a way to balance her time between school, working on the video, and her volunteer work with children at a local hospital. Her plans are almost derailed when she
discovers a bald spot on her head and is subsequently diagnosed with alopecia areata, an incurable autoimmune disease that can result in complete hair loss. Sloane decides to keep her condition a secret while she tries to complete her application, a decision made increasingly difficult as her appearance rapidly changes. When her condition is revealed, she is forced to make a potentially life-altering decision.
Author Laura Langston gives young readers much to relate to as Sloane struggles with her illness. While vocabulary choices occasionally lend an adult tone to the narration, detracting from the authenticity of the teen voice, Sloane’s personality is clearly defined. Her reactions to the diagnosis are heartbreakingly true to life as she tries to convince herself that she has never really cared about her appearance, and attempts to rationalize the intellectual conflict born out of recognizing the difference between her plight and the truly desperate situations of the young hospital patients she visits. But no matter how often Sloane reminds herself that “it’s only hair,” she is devastated, going so far as to wish she had cancer instead of alopecia because at least then there would be the possibility of a cure being discovered. It’s a blunt reminder of how much of teen identity is tied up in society’s continued emphasis on physical appearance.
The Art of Getting Stared At effectively presents the ongoing battle most teens face between understanding who they are and worrying about what they look like. The novel will keep readers engaged as it serves up its message in a fast-paced and interesting manner.