|Robb's Rambling Reviews||
I’ve long known that Beautiful Creatures was written on a dare, but I was pleasantly surprised by this little gem. Set in modern day South Carolina, the mysterious southern lore gives the book and air of mystery and credibility, of permanence and decay. Plantations and cemeteries have a way of doing this, don’t they? Visit New Orleans any given time and you’ll find out quickly. Although the setting is extremely important to the novels development, I found the characters were the element which brought the book to life. What makes this unusual however, is that it isn’t the main characters which I was drawn to, it is the many ancillary characters who I found most interesting, and whom I believe really drive the action. Yes, the mystic love story centers around Lena, a supernatural being call a Caster, and Ethan, a mortal teenager, but without the supporting characters, this would be merely another YA romance. Characters such as Lena’s uncle Macon, the town recluse who is actually an incubus and Lena’s father figure; or Amma, Ethan’s family’s housekeeper, and surrogate mother, after his own dies under mysterious circumstances; or Marian Ashcroft, the librarian, and Ethan's late mother's best friend who is able to interact with both the caster and human worlds simultaneously. (Yes, Marian the Librarian.) I’m not sure whether Garcia and Stohl set out to create two non-descript main characters so the others would shine, or if it simply happened, but I find the outcome to be rather enjoyable. Rarely are secondary characters given a chance to shine.
I also found the use of dialogue and dialect to be of great importance in the novel. Anyone who lives in, or has visited the South knows just how important this is. Whether Macon is giving Lena fatherly advice, or great-aunts scolding Ethan for not visiting more often, the dialogue between characters is delightful and exquisitely southern. It may be the formal way in which young people are expected to address adults, or the way the Baptists talk about the Methodists, or the way our slow, deliberate colloquial speech is looked at by some to be a sign of lower intelligence, or the way the Daughters of the American Revolution use words dripping with honey when the actually mean to cut deep to the heart, the dialogue is a major player in the book as well.
Another aspect of Beautiful Creatures I found interesting is the point of view from which the story is written. With the exception of one of the final chapters, the entire novel is written from Ethan’s point of view, not Lena’s or from a third person, as one might expect. Because Ethan is able to read Lena’s thoughts, and vice versa, we know what the heroine is thinking, but through his interactions and conversations with others the storyline proves to be much more masculine than most YA romance novels. His interactions with his classmates, the basketball team, and his best friend Lincoln, are a refreshing change from the norm.
I have a confession to make: I have purposefully never read Beautiful Creatures or watched the movie associated with it, although I’ve had copies of the entire series on my book self for nearly a decade. Why? I’ve always assumed the books were merely rip offs of Stephenie Meyer's blockbusters and wanted nothing to with them. I’ll also confess I was terribly wrong. Although they share the same supernatural romance genre, they are distinctly different. As a future librarian, I must be much more careful in the future. At least I have made them available in my classroom for my students! As I stated above, I found the book extremely enjoyable due mainly to the brilliant characters and melancholy mood of the novel. I also found the message to be one I could take to heart: Things aren’t always the way you think they are, life is more grey than black and white. I think that’s something adults need to hear, and most young adults already know.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Beautiful Creatures even though I didn’t expect to do so. Although a bit wordy at times, the pace of the book, along with the spellbinding characterizations more than made up for the minor shortcomings. In a book which I expected to fit a genre mold perfectly, I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. Garcia and Stohl succeeded in creating an impressive work complete with engaging characters, a twisting plot, and a totally out of the box experience. Nice work!
Citation: Garcia, K. & Stohl, M. (2009). Beautiful creatures. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co.