Seems forever since I have had an afternoon free to read. The past few weeks have been filled instead with deadlines: a chapter for two different professional books and a couple of columns on YA literature. Now that I am between the writing and the revisions to come, I spent some time wallowing delightedly in the new Dark Fusion book by Neal Shusterman, DUCKLING UGLY. I already read and loved RED RIDER'S HOOD and DREAD LOCKS. This one takes the series to a new level. Cara is considered by all who meet her to be, well in a word, ugly. In fact, her appearance is so heinous that mirrors and camera lenses shatter when she looks into them. She is, of course, a pariah in school and even at home. Befriended by a woman who lives in a cottage in the middle of the cemetery, Cara is told that she has some purpose in life and she must find out what that purpose is. A mysterious note provides Cara some clues about where to look for her purpose. Cara lands in a community of people all made physically lovely by the legendary Fountain of Youth. However, even once she is stunningly beautiful, Cara feels as if something is lacking. She flees her new community to return to her home and school and perhaps exact revenge on those who shunned her. That is where this story takes an interesting and (to me) unexpected twist. Shusterman not only incorporates elements of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, but there are also elements of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast as well. This is an absorbing tale sure to attract readers to the other two books in this series. FAIREST by Gail Carson Levine is a terrific pairing for this book.