A review by Nalini Haynes
Celestine is a perfect girl with perfect grades and the perfect boyfriend. Her mother is a model and her father runs a TV station. The only fly in her ointment is her not-quite-perfect sister who has dyslexia, an imperfection that only affected the family when sister Juniper started high school.
Then Celestine helps an old man on a bus, trying to get two perfect people to move so he could sit in his designated Flawed (disabled) seat. They wouldn’t move and Celestine was taken away and branded for her crimes against society.
My feelings about Flawed are somewhat mixed. Celestine’s dad is black and her mom is white but Celestine has her dad’s exact skin color. Apart from this being somewhat surprising, it makes what follows a bit obvious. The black girl is punished for helping someone who ‘should have’ sat in his designated seat on the bus.
Before I even reached the scene in the bus, Flawed shut me out. As a person with a disability, there was no place for me in Flawed society, a society that demands perfection of everyone in all things. I wondered if people with disabilities would automatically be deemed flawed? Or if we’d just be treated as such, not unlike we are already?
Later, as Celestine struggles with the truth and the desire to fit in, I was there. Some times I’ve stood for others, putting myself at great risk, like on a bus where Australian yobbos were abusing and sexually harassing a girl. At other times, I’ve stood down, like when I screamed for police at Dandenong train station and was confronted with 2 undercover metro police (the bullies who inspired me to scream for help) and a huge crowd of blue-clad security officers who defended the illegal actions of two oversized bullies abusing a teenage boy. Terrified, I walked away from the teenager they were terrorizing.
Much of the abuse Celestine experiences resonated with me, at least to some extent. When riots start and people die, Ahern is writing the current situation in America, with police shooting unarmed black people for existing while black.
Celestine’s utter dependence on having a boy in her life is infuriating. She obsesses about her boyfriend and another boy who she hasn’t even had a conversation with. The only way I’d applaud this aspect of the novel if Celestine got the boy and learnt that she’d projected fantasies onto his smoldering looks, only to find she was completely and utterly wrong.
There are some inconsistencies in the story, like how children are taken away from some ‘flawed’ parents but not others. Carrick, Celestine’s hot crush, moved in with a couple, one of whom is flawed. This seemed very ‘because plot’ and implausible; I suspect it will be key to the plot in the second novel.
Juniper’s dyslexia is not at all convincing; not in how or when it affected Juniper and Celestine — at the beginning of high school — and not in the complete absence of any treatment or assistance. Ahern’s depiction of dyslexia renders it a benign disability to be overcome alone with hard work, with added benefits including more astute observations of people and creative problem-solving. As a person with a different disability that renders me print-disabled (although differently), I rail against this kind of simplistic misrepresentation.
Overall Flawed has messages and morals for young people finding their place in the world and yet it’s rather simplistic. I wasn’t surprised to google Cecelia Ahern and discover she’s white and, seemingly, is not disabled. The novel lacks that gritty element that shows experience of being a minority or deep research.
Flawed is a novel about difference, making mistakes and finding your voice. As such, I recommend Flawed, especially for teenagers. I try to blank out Celestine’s dependency on men; I will put my fingers in my eyes and sing ‘la la LA’ very loudly whenever she obsesses.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
ISBN 10: 0008125090
Format: paperback, 400 pages