Review: A Different Beautiful by Courtney Westlake

Much of my husband's family lives near Springfield, IL, as do several of our friends from college. Several years ago, many of them began sharing blog posts from a local woman named Courtney Westlake whose daughter, Brenna, was born with a serious, life-threatening skin disease called harlequin ichthyosis. Shortly thereafter, I began following Courtney's blog and holding this family in prayer. When I learned Courtney was writing a book, A Different Beautiful, I was excited to read it.

A Different Beautiful

In A Different Beautiful, Courtney chronicles her family's experience in raising a seriously ill, yet fiercely determined and spunky child. Courtney's words are often raw and vulnerable, especially as she recounts the moments when she and her husband first realized something was seriously wrong with their daughter and then again, when she shares about the Christmas when Brenna nearly died. Through it all, Courtney clings to and often encounters God. In God, she discovers hope, saying “Even in the most dire and desperate of circumstances in this world, there is hope folded into the fear and the grief – hope for something better.”

Through A Different Beautiful, Courtney talks openly and honestly about her experience in raising a special needs child. At one point, she talks about marking “never” or “sometimes” next to questions about Brenna's developmental milestones. She then concludes, “I see every day how much [she is] learning and progressing and trying in all different areas – areas that are important but that the doctor's offices don't measure. Areas like kindness and empathy and creativity and imagination and respect and building relationships and friendships.”

As part of this conversation, Courtney shares about her experience navigating people's reactions to Brenna's skin condition. This is, I think, where A Different Beautiful is at it's best. According to Courtney, “Different doesn't have to mean strange when we approach strangers with open hearts, despite vastly different cultures, religions, backgrounds, or ways of life.”

Courtney reminds all parents, “Our responsibility to teach kindness and respect to our children takes precedence over personal humiliation caused by their words or actions, every time.” She challenges us, “I wish you would proactively talk about differences more often with your children. I wish you would read children's books about being different, and I wish you would positively and naturally converse about various kinds of differences – from wheelchairs to birthmarks, Down syndrome to skin disorders, and racial differences to wearing glasses.” Doing so will help teach children that “we are all different.”

To be sure, A Different Beautiful differed from my expectations of it. I expected it to read more like Courtney's blog, with her family's story the focal point and the lessons she's learned about faith and life flowing from it. Instead, I often felt as though the book's lessons were outlined first and her family's story written so as to illustrate those points.

Despite this, A Different Beautiful is a compelling book that will give hope to many. According to Courtney, “It is my ultimate hope that grace becomes less hard work and more a part of who I am and that with every extension of respect and kindness and compassion, the world will be able to join us in celebrating all kinds of beautiful, however different that may look.”

With the efforts of people like Courtney, that hope is becoming a reality. A Different Beautiful will indeed help people celebrate all kinds of beautiful and the reality that “beautiful is a way of being and a way of living, each and every day, perhaps each and every moment.”


Disclosure: I received a free copy of A Different Beautiful in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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