Beauty and the Bin

Authored by Joanne O'Connell
Published by Pan Macmillan

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This is a funny and poignant book about values and friendship; about learning to be yourself while navigating the needs of the world around you and about deciding what matters.

12-year-old Laurie is in her first year at secondary school, and things are going well for her – she’s enjoyed a fresh start, found some good friends and even ventured into the world of social media. And, perhaps best of all, the school is some distance from her family home, which means she has a valid excuse not to invite her friends around. The Larksies are a family of eco-warriors determined to make the world a better place by salvaging food waste from supermarket bins and growing as much as they can for themselves in the house they’ve turned into a hydroponic farm. Laurie’s not against this, but she also just wants to be able to fit in, buy herself some clothes and enjoy a hot chocolate after school with her friends. When a competition looking for entrepreneurs is introduced at the school, Laurie sees an opportunity for her homemade beauty and skincare remedies, especially when, to her surprise, the most popular girl in the school wants to partner with her. But there are lots of obstacles to navigate along the way: will she lose her two best friends? How will she manage all her commitments to family, school and the competition? How will she be able to work with someone so different from her? What if people find out what her products are made from and what her family stands for?

There were two things that I particularly enjoyed about this book. One was the environmental themes of reducing waste and living as sustainably as possible – Joanne O’Connell’s inspiration for the book sprang from a year she spent as a journalist writing about food waste. Her knowledge and insight make these themes in the story informative and realistic. The reader is exposed to how our society treats waste (particularly food waste) and how some people are trying to change that, and you cannot help but debate the different approaches. The second strength for me was Joanne O’Connell’s portrayal of the personal journey of Laurie Larksie as she learns to juggle conflicting values and principles, within herself as well as without, and emerges with a stronger sense of and acceptance of herself.

While, as an adult, I found the narrative a bit cringy at times, I was reminded of some of the books I had loved as a child/ teenager, that explored friendships and inner angst! I’m not sure this book would appeal to all class members – it is heavily girl-centric – so I might not choose to use this as a class read. But I’d have it on my classroom library shelf and promote it as one to read for anyone who might be interested in these themes. The thematic content is suited to 9+, and the narrative style would be suitable for any readers looking for an easy read.