Careful to remind readers that this isn’t a tell-all, but a 'tell-mine,' Smith opens her heart like a book, dog-earing moments both painful and joyous: falling in and out of love, losing pregnancies, having children and mothering them. It’s also a lesson in the craft of putting one’s life on the page, full of notes, asides, and questions: 'How can this story—this experience—be useful to anyone other than me? How can I make this material into a tool you can use?' Smith’s conjuring of beauty through pain and her special blend of vulnerability and encouragement go down like a healing tonic.
You Could Make This Place Beautiful could easily be described as brutal in its telling. It is a brutal, and brutally honest, reflection on some of the lowest and hardest moments of Smith's life. But in that darkness, Smith finds--and shares--the promised beauty ... makes a gift out of Smith's pain, tied up not in a neat bow, but offered with grace, humility and wonder as something to be treasured and held up gently, to see what it may reflect of ourselves when it touches the light.
Smith combines these elements with other narrative gimmicks, such as addresses directly to the “Reader,” single quotes from other writers floating on a page, italicized sections, and a few of her own poems. Some readers will skim these sections, but without them, this would have been more of a magazine article than a full book. The highlight of the text is the author's children, Violet and Rhett.