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Sunday, April 25, 2010

'Beautiful Creatures' by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl



Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

There were no surprises in Gatlin County.
We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything...

I was hooked from the first page.

‘Beautiful Creatures’ has one of the most intriguing openings I have ever read. The first chapter has Ethan cryptically explaining;
There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.
I never even saw it coming.

And it only gets better from there…

Ethan is the stories’ narrator, and I adored him. It’s so rare that YA books are written with a male voice these days – so ‘Beautiful Creatures’ instantly stands out for that reason alone. Having Ethan narrate means that this novel is as accessible for boys as it is for girls – which is fantastic, because I think the YA male readership has had a hard trot of late and been widely ignored in the genre.

Ethan isn’t an idealized storyteller either, with a mind to appeal to the female readership. He checks girls out, thinks about sex (a lot) and feels pressure from his friends to fit in, be ‘one of the crowd’. He’s also got the weight of the world on his shoulders when the story begins – his mother died in a car accident last year, and his father has become a recluse in the wake of her death. Now he is being raised by his Amma (grandmother), a woman who believes in superstition and that all lessons can be learned in a crossword puzzle.

Lena is a likewise original character for the YA audience to admire. She definitely marches to her own beat – wearing over-sized clothes, chuck taylors and no make-up. She’s a true individual to respect; even in the face of school bullying she maintains her originality. And she’s harboring even more personal burdens than Ethan. She has a battle raging within; because when Lena gets angry, the skies open up. Lightning, thunder... she can't control it, and she's terrified that it might be controlling her. Dun, dun, DUN!

‘Beautiful Creatures’ is peppered with literary references. I cringe at the thought that many of the Young Adult’s reading this book won’t know who Jack Kerouac is, or Scarlett O’Hara… even worse if they have no first-hand knowledge of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: because Garcia and Stohl work that reference in so beautifully. Ethan compares his hometown of Gatlin to Lee’s fictional Maycomb. Lena’s uncle is the town ‘Boo Radley’ – a likeness that Macon Ravenwood takes in stride, even naming his pet wolf after the infamous shut-in.

But the biggest way in which ‘Beautiful Creatures’ pays tribute to ‘Mockingbird’ is in theme. ‘Beautiful Creatures’ is a novel about bigotry. Stohl and Garcia explore injustice through the rugged terrain of High School, and the character of Lena Duchannes.
Lena is labeled ‘freak girl’ because her uncle is Gatlin’s recluse, Macon Ravenwood – Lena also has black hair when the trend is blonde, pale skin when fake-tan is in and the audacity to dress like an individual. As the novel progresses the town’s bigotry towards Lena and her family stems from superficial to supernatural reasons. There are weird going’s on in Gatlin, and the townsfolk are sharpening their pitchforks and pointing the finger at the haunted Ravenwood plantation and its inhabitants.

With prejudice and bias come another thematic ‘Mockingbird’ exploration of paradise lost and the death of innocence. Ethan Wate is a Gatlin local and popular High School basketball star. As our narrator, he is witness to Lena’s social torture, and often her protector against ragged ‘Southern hospitality’. As readers we are privy to Ethan’s changing perspective of the town he grew up in, and the only life he has ever known;

A month ago I wouldn’t have believed it, but now I knew better. This was Gatlin. Not the Gatlin I thought I knew, but some other Gatlin that had apparently been hiding in plain sight all along. A town where the girl I liked was from a long line of Casters, my housekeeper was a Seer who read chicken bones in the swamp and summoned the spirits of her dead ancestors, and even my dad acted like a vampire.
There seemed to be nothing too unbelievable for this Gatlin. It’s funny how you can live somewhere your whole life, but not really see it.

‘Beautiful Creatures’ is imbedded in the south. From gator swamps to majestic plantations – South Carolina is a character unto itself in the book. Garcia and Stohl evoke a precise image of the Deep South that transports the reader and captivates the imagination. Garcia and Stohl are particularly talented at writing southern intonation for their characters. I adored Ethan’s grandmother, Amma’s voice; it was lyrical and beautiful, and dripping in drawl;

“Well, you mind your manners and don’t raise your voice. You know what your mamma used to say. Any book is a Good Book, and wherever they keep the Good Book safe is also the House a the Lord.”

I especially loved the southern history discussed in the novel – in particular the ‘The War of Northern Aggression’ (the ‘American Civil War’ to those damn Yankees). As someone who only has a basic understanding of American history, I found the imaginative retelling an absolute delight.

The love story between Ethan and Lena is the main draw-card though. I loved their relationship because it was believable, yet epic.

This may be a paranormal romance, but Ethan and Lena are tackling very ordinary teen issues in order to be together. Mainly, the fact that Lena is despised by the school’s ‘in’ crowd, who also happen to be Ethan’s friends. Not to mention the fact that both Ethan and Lena’s families’ don’t want them to be together. Underneath all the normal teen issues about cliques, popularity and going against the grain, there is a supernatural force working against Lena and Ethan. Their relationship is equal parts fantastical and realistic, and one of the most romantic YA pairings I have ever read (right up there with Rose & Dimitri, Claire & Shane, Edward & Bella…).

‘Beautiful Creatures’ is 563 pages of addictive reading. A YA book you can really sink your teeth into, get caught up in and resent coming to the end of.

I’m thrilled to discover that Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl have a sequel coming out. ‘Beautiful Darkness’, released 26 October 2010. Hallelujah!

5/5

26 October 2010

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review.
    I myself am still not sure if this is a book for me.

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  2. I bought that one recently and I cant wait to read it =)))

    great review!

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  3. Right up there with Rose/Dimitri and Claire/Shane? Wow - adding this to my TBR now!

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  4. I cant wait to read Beautiful Darkness!! I was left wanting more from Beautiful Creatures. Oct.26 I will be at the book store.

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  5. Iv'e already read both Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness (who hasn't by now?)
    i just wanted to say they were the best books iv'e ever read!
    btw, great review!

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  6. Beautiful Darkness took me on a journey that I was not expecting. The Castor tunnels, the forest and the caves were all so well described and painted on paper, I felt like I could read the maps that Liv ( You'll meet her soon enough ) would hold and smooth out on the palms of her hand. Link was such a great best friend, Always there for Ethan and of course was funnier than ever. And Amma, made me miss my grandmother. She was the perfect mix of stubborn, protective and Don't-Even-Roll-Your-Eyes-at-Me-or-I'ma-Gonna-Beat-You-With-a-Stick type of love. You don't know whether to cry because your scared Amma really has a stick or smile because deep down she knows what's best.

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