I don't usually give one-star ratings to YA, but this book begged me for it.
On the bright side, it does accurately depict the romantic drama that's often an inherent part of adolescence. It also makes an effort to deal with heavy issues like divorce, terminal illness, and teen alcohol abuse.
On the other hand, it fails miserably on nearly every level. The premise is shallow: the heroine goes through one of the magical awkward-to-gorgeous metamorphoses so common in teen movies and her life is forever altered because of it. Sadly, the physical change does not alter her personality for the better. She spends the entire book obsessing over boy after boy and attempting - and failing - to manipulate others. The one-page prologue lets the reader know to expect the heroine to wind up with someone at the end. The blurb makes it clear that it will be one of her mother's best friends sons. I think letting that much information out on the dust jacket was a poor choice, because she also has a third suitor. The author takes pains to make him seem wrong for the heroine, mainly by making him very environmentally and socially conscious. I got the impression these qualities were supposed to make him nerdy and undesirable, but it just made me think, "He's way too smart for her." Frankly, the two brothers both come off as wrong for her as well. The younger brother is an undeveloped character, and the heroine makes it plain from the beginning that she only thinks of him as a friend. Nothing ever leads us to believe her feelings might change, no red herrings here. The elder brother is an emotionally unavailable manipulator who self-medicates his depression with alcohol. Naturally, he is her one true love, but in that mental state, he is not the right person for anyone.
The heroine's yearning for the elder brother takes up most of the book. The author never convincingly shows that this guy deserves the heroine's devotion. He bullies her just as enthusiastically as her own uncharitable older brother does. She correctly pegs him at the end of the book when she accuses him of just using her as an ego boost; he dates other girls, ignores her, bullies her, and then gets jealous when she moves on and gets a real boyfriend. When she actually grew a spine and told him off, I thought the book might have some redemptive qualities after all. But alas, they are together in the end, and I suppose the reader is to assume the hero has turned into a better guy in the six months he and the heroine are apart. But since nothing about the events of those six months is divulged, it's a leap of faith.
And finally, there's the little matter of the heroine's name: Belly (eventually the reader learns her real name is Isabel.) Whether you find the name cute or gross, it's distracting. Every time someone called her by name, I had a mental picture of the heroine with a jiggly Santa-esque stomach.
While it's on the Best Books for YAs list for 2010, I can't see teens getting into this one. The heroine is simply too vapid, wimpy, and unlikeable. I would recommend Sarah Dessen instead.