Sixteen-year-old Sep (short for Giuseppina) wakes up on the first day of school to find that her lips are completely white.
With some lipstick on, she hopes for a miracle to restore her natural lip color. Her doctor confirms the beginnings of the skin condition vitiligo. Horrified by her blotchy body, Sep is unable to tell her friends, even as she draws the flirtatious attention of Joshua, captain of the football team. Napoli, known for her retellings of legends that explore female power and budding sexuality (Hush, 2007; Bound, 2004; etc.), develops those themes here in a contemporary setting. Sep is intelligent, old-fashioned and cautious, but she begins to change. She finds herself soliciting advice from the wiser, slightly older girl at the makeup counter. She talks to her mother in a way she never has before, telling her “I’m a fucking train wreck.” Within a few weeks, Sep goes from sweet 16 and never-been-kissed to straddling Joshua’s face in order to find out what sexual pleasure is. Rather than re-telling a specific, identifiable folktale, Napoli looks at the sexual transformation wrought by adolescence using Sep’s skin as a focus, awkwardly braiding in folkloric tropes—the makeup-counter girl as witch stand-in, for instance. Though the end refutes happily-ever-after in a satisfying way, the sketchy plot, heavy on dialogue, is unconvincing.
Like Sep’s decisions, this story feels rushed. (Fiction. 14-17)