A few days ago at work a library patron brought in this book as a donation for the staff book exchange. “Please don’t judge me, it’s YA,” she said. “And it was really good.” Based on her recommendation, I decided to borrow it for the weekend.
“Beautiful Creatures” isn’t the type of book that I’d have found on my own. There’s a blurb on the back saying that Twilight fans would love it, which almost always sets of alarm bells in my head. At the same time, one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and I’m glad that I decided to give this one a chance. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a fun read on a relaxing weekend.
There were no surprises in Gatlin County.
We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.
Ethan is a normal teenager growing up in a rural Southern town. It’s the kind of place where everybody knows everybody, and people generally spend their entire lives there. Ethan’s on the basketball team, and outwardly fits in with his peers, but he also loves reading and dreams of leaving Gatlin once he graduates. Ethan’s life is forever changed when a new girl named Lena Duchannes moves into town. As the two teenagers fall in love, they discover that not everything in Gatlin is what it seems. There’s an obvious supernatural element, but I’m not going to get into it here, because the gradual introduction and revelation of the magical elements were part of what made this book fun to read.
Gatlin is the perfect setting for this novel. The authors pay close attention to detail, from the Civil War reenactments, the DAR ladies, and the town rivalries and superstitions. It makes a wonderful setting for a Gothic/paranormal novel, and it was one of the things that sucked me into the book.
I wish that the book had a little bit less emphasis on high school, but at the same time, I give the author a lot of credit for their perspective on it and for getting it right. Gatlin reminded me a lot of the town where I grew up (albeit slightly less extreme). It’s the kind of place where everybody’s known everybody since preschool. Lena’s the new girl, and she’s different. She wears the wrong clothes, the wrong shoes, and doesn’t interact like a normal person. That’s why Ethan likes her. At the same time, Ethan sets himself up for the same alienation when he begins hanging out with her. The authors capture all the awkwardness and alienation that you get for being yourself instead of following the unspoken rules of high school. I liked that the drama wasn’t a love triangle, but rather the conflict between following one’s convictions and fitting in with the crowd.
My favorite character in the book is Marian, the librarian, who runs both the public library and a secret magical library. In the struggle between the forces of light and darkness, she takes a strictly neutral position, and doesn’t get involved except in the context of her work as a librarian.
Even though the book did a lot of things right, there are still a few things that annoyed me. Just basic typical YA book/movie tropes, like the supernatural significance of the 16th birthday, or a curse that seems oddly specific for no reason whatsoever. Also, the ending didn’t really make sense, and could have been thought out a lot better (Really? The moon is obscured so she doesn’t get Claimed and gets to be both good and evil? Have there not been clouds for the past 150 years?).
Despite its problems, I did enjoy “Beautiful Creatures.” It reminded me a bit of late 1990s Disney Channel movies, so there was definitely a nostalgia factor at work, even if some parts did make me roll my eyes a bit. It makes good beach or vacation reading, where you don’t want something that involves too much thinking, but are still looking for a book that will make you forget about the world for a while. At the same time, I don’t feel the need to read the sequels.