Amber—24 years old, tech support worker, gay and staunchly feminist—is not impressed when she starts seeing adverts for a new drug which lets you move fat around your body to wherever you’d like it to be. Marketed exclusively at women, of course, it’s just been legalised in Chicago and people have… mixed feelings. Amber’s little sister, Judie, is thrilled by the new drug and the opportunity it gives her to make her unwieldy body look the way she’s always wanted it to. As Lipamorph takes the city by storm, as opinions are divided and battle lines are drawn, the only person who seems reluctant to share her thoughts on the issue is Kelly—creative, intelligent, gorgeous and bi—the woman Amber is rapidly falling in love with.
Sculpt Yourself, by Savy Leiser, opens with a strong point of view and seems prepared to beat you over the head with it if necessary. I don’t say this as a criticism; Sculpt Yourself puts forward its perspective with a lot of humour, it had me laughing out loud within the first few pages, and a lot of this (both the wit and the lack of subtlety) comes from the first of the three perspectives we experience the story through.
Amber, the first and arguably central point of view for the story, is opinionated, but she has enough uncertainty and self-doubt come through in her chapters that she’s very easy to root for. The other two perspectives come from her sister Judie, who at first glance seems almost the polar opposite of Amber, and Kelly, who works in marketing in the same place where Amber works in tech support.
Amber and Kelly, it has to be said, are adorable. Their relationship develops quickly once they meet—but so does everything in this book—and it’s easy to see their growing affection for each other. They have very distinct characters, which doesn’t always feel like the case with multiple point of view stories, and I enjoyed getting to know both of them throughout the story.
Although I liked Judie, I didn’t find her as easy to empathise with as Amber, but I think that’s more a function of where my own feelings about Lipamorph align than anything to do with the way Judie was written. Another factor was probably the fact that when we switched between Amber’s and Kelly’s perspectives we were getting new insights into their budding relationship, whereas Judie’s plot was at slightly more of a remove. Judie was a lovely character, and I wanted to see her happy, but I was never quite as interested in her chapters as Amber’s or Kelly’s.
Leiser’s writing is smooth and accomplished, making Sculpt Yourself a very easy read. The premise of Lipamorph is interesting, simple enough to be easily grasped, and makes for a tidy middle ground between make up and plastic surgery on which to consider the complicated interaction between feminism and body image.
The debate is interesting, and I appreciate that the characters—and, by extension, the author—largely recognise the enormous complexity of the issues at the heart of the story. Is the most important thing that women feel confident, via whatever tools allow them to feel that way, or is it more important to reject potentially harmful cultural norms and look for confidence while rejecting socially-imposed beauty standards? It’s a massive question, and a lot to tackle in a relatively short book that also has plenty of plot to work through. Rather than coming down firmly on one particular stance, the story recognises the validity of a range of different positions.
On the one hand, I found this a little dissatisfying after the firm stance the book felt like it took in its opening. On the other, I can see how learning to appreciate and respect other people’s perspectives is an important part of Amber’s character journey, so I can see why it fits with the overall arc of the story to avoid coming down on side or another of the issue.
Leiser avoids having the latter part of the story become a shrug of “everybody is right!” by introducing a related conflict for the characters to focus their energy on, which I think works well—for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t go into any more detail than that.
There’s obviously been a lot of thought put into how a drug like Lipamorph would be responded to, and the various reasons it might be used beyond the obvious (and most marketable) one of shifting a little excess fat from belly to boobs. Little touches, like the people using the drug to create bizarre sculptures from their own bodies, really brought the concept to life for me.
Sculpt Yourself is a witty and fast-moving story about romance, self-love and feminism, not necessarily in that order. It’s not a long read, and at times it feels like it struggles to do justice to the massive issues it’s looking at in the time it’s got, but I feel Leiser has done a great job of balancing different perspectives throughout the narrative, and I would definitely recommend it.
You can find Sculpt Yourself on Amazon.
This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on LovelyAudiobooks.info