Picks and Pans Review: Choosing Survival

updated 03/31/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 03/31/2008 01:00AM

PRETTY IS WHAT CHANGES
by Jessica Queller |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

REVIEWED BY BETH PERRY

MEMOIR

TV writer Jessica Queller was 34 and single when she discovered that, as she now puts it, "my own body could kill me." Less than a year after her mother, a breast cancer survivor, died of ovarian cancer, Queller tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, an indication that she was at high risk of contracting breast or ovarian cancer. "This truth," she writes, "would change the course of my life." That altered course is chronicled in Pretty, an affecting memoir about a decision more women will face in this era of genetic prophecy: whether to undergo a preventive double mastectomy. Queller grapples with body-image fears and her longing to be a mother, admires a mastectomy patient's new breasts and finally opts for surgery, choosing implants that reduce her D-cup to a B. She balances bleak moments with wit and maintains a fierce independence: Knowing she'll have her ovaries removed at 40, the author—now 38 and a Gossip Girl writer—decides she will try to have a baby on her own. Her brave, inspiring journey lends credence to her message: "Scientific advances give us new opportunities to live," she writes. "Seize them."

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