Book Reviews

Review: This Place is Still Beautiful by XiXi Tian

This Place is Still Beautiful is an aching look at racism, activism, and sisterhood. It’s about two characters who are struggling to figure out who they are in relation to the world. To find their own voice and value their words and experiences. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


Despite having had near-identical upbringings, sisters Annalie and Margaret agree on only one thing: that they have nothing in common. Nineteen-year-old Margaret is driven, ambitious, and keenly aware of social justice issues. She couldn’t wait to leave their oppressive small-town home and take flight in New York. Meanwhile sweet, popular, seventeen-year-old Annalie couldn’t think of anything worse – she loves their town, and feels safe coasting along in its confines.

That is, until she arrives home one day to find a gut-punching racial slur painted on their garage door.

Outraged, Margaret flies home, expecting to find her family up in arms. Instead, she’s amazed to hear they want to forget about it. Their mom is worried about what it might stir up, and Annalie just wants to have a ‘normal’ summer – which Margaret is determined to ruin, apparently.

Back under each other’s skins, things between Margaret and Annalie get steadily worse – and not even the distraction of first love (for Annalie), or lost love (for Margaret) can bring them together.

Until finally, a crushing secret threatens to tear them apart forever.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

TW: racism, racial slur, colorism

I was always going to fall in love with a story about sisters. And a relationship that is complex, full of tenderness and rage. Being Dual POV is 100% the right call for this book so we can not only see each sister’s mindset, but also how they see each other. We can see the pressure and expectations on Margaret’s shoulders. Her fury which bubbles close to the surface. And we can also understand Annalie’s desire for fun amidst a world that tries to tear us down.

This is one of those stories where at the beginning, I thought I am going to only love Margaret. Because I’m a Margaret. But This Place is Still Beautiful doesn’t allow easy answers. And by the end I honeslty couldn’t pick. Annalie is embaressed of Margaret, but deeper so, she’s reminded of her white passing privilege and also the ways in which she doesn’t speak out. While this is very much a story about activism and resistance. About finding our own ability to speak up and seeing the necessity. It’s also about love, second chances, and family.

It’s realizing that we need someone to believe us, support us, let us know when we’re making a mistake. Reading Margaret’s story felt cathartic. She knows how to use her voice, but her struggle becomes about who she can use it with or for. Whereas Annalie has to figure out what her limits are. What she will tolerate in her life, passing comments, or implicit racism. This Place is Still Beautiful is tender and emotional. It’s a story that delivers swoons, emotional tension, and family scenes all in one. Find This Place is Still Beautiful on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.


Do you have a favorite dual POV sister story?

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