Themes Explored: adolescence, southern culture, parental abandonment, bullying, teenage angst, high school, magic, witch lore, good versus evil, free will versus predestined future, love, hate, destiny, romance, growing up, coming-of-age, family dynamics
Synopsis: In Ethan Wate’s hometown there lies the darkest of secrets. There is a curse. On the Sixteenth Moon, the Sixteenth Year, the Book will take what it’s been promised. And no one can stop it. Lena and Ethan become bound together by a deep, powerful love. But Lena is cursed and on her sixteenth birthday, her fate will be decided. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: Beautiful Creatures is the first book in a four book series. It is also the debut novel of both authors, so there are some bumps in the narrative. However, it is one of the better debut novels I have read. Also, the novel is unique in that the narrative comes from the perspective of the male protagonist. This is an interesting perspective since male protagonist’s viewpoint is normally not explored in depth in a first person perspective. For a collaborative novel, the book contains some wonderful lyrical writing. There were several too many secondary characters thrown in towards the end of the novel, but they likely appear in the sequels. For a young adult novel, the book is a decent 563 pages long. The length was perfect for crafting a modern Southern gothic tale set in the sultry town of Gatlin, South Carolina. Really, more novels need to be set in the deep American south. The setting is perfect for this kind of story.
In several ways, Beautiful Creatures goes against the grain and tries to stay away from the run-of-the-mill formulaic teenage dramas. I did enjoy the story primarily comes from the male perspective. However, I am not sure how accurate the “male” narration was, since Ethan does act against character sometimes. Ethan possess a passionate and distinctive voice. He tries to be all smart and cool but is also a bit traditional. Most of his actions are driven by his grief over the loss of his mother. His loss is profound and shapes his relationships with everyone around him. And is father has basically abandoned him and locked himself away inside his study. While Ethan seems to have an excellent support system, he tends to grieve in private and away from the people who want to help him. Overall, I think Ethan is one of the better male teenage protagonist I have read in recent years. Having known a lot of teenage guys, I think his depiction is mostly spot-on. There were a couple times where the character made some decisions that seemed out-of-character, but the character is still great.
Lena Duchannes is the girl that first appears in Ethan’s dreams. Then he realizes she is real when Lena is revealed to be the new student at his school. Lena stands out from the crowd in both personality and dress, and the whole town has a difficult time accepting this fact. What I loved about Lena is that while she longs to fit in, she refuses to abandon her individuality. Naturally, this is the main characteristics that Ethan loves about her. However, Lena is also a Caster, type of witch. What is unique is that there are “light/good” Casters and “dark/bad” Casters. No one knows which type of witch they will be until their sixteenth birthday. This is due to a curse that was put on the family over 150 years ago. I thought this was an interesting twist on the whole good versus evil debate. But I would have liked a little more explanation on the pas of the family. Quite frankly, the past misdeeds of the Casters sounded more exciting than the events depicted in the novel.
Ethan and Lena’s relationship evolves incredibly slowly, an interesting change for young adult novels. Usually it is love at first sight or a painful love triangle. However, I never felt like the romantic parts of the relationship were totally believable. Why do they fall for each other? Because of the drams? Because of other experiences they share? Despite the time dedicated to the relationship, I still ended the book not knowing a lot about Lena. She is not as well-developed as Ethan and this makes a bit of an enigma. On one hand, the mystery surrounding here is an excellent narrative technique. On the other, I really wanted to hear her side of things. Lena and Ethan are both tragic, innocent, upright, and well-intentioned characters. Sometimes their actions have horrific consequences. Ethan and his male friends are well written and I wished the female counterparts were just as original. Overall, the romance is more dreamy than steamy, at the most they share some passionate kissing.
I thought the historical connections and Civil War flashbacks were excellent and really highlighted the paranormal elements in the story. For being set in South Carolina, the authors manage to make the setting seem familiar and eerily different at the same time. Since this is a debut novel, there are some hiccups in the narrative. Most of the secondary characters are nothing more than slightly original caricatures. There are the usual mean girls, surly teenagers, hormonal guys, creepy uncles, and intense older woman. Even if the adult characters are unoriginal, at least they are mostly likable and dependable. As this book is the first in a series, there are a lot of narrative strings left dangling. However, I am not sure if I feel like discovering the ending. While I enjoyed most of the novel, I never really connected with any of the characters. Lena was just a little too thinly sketched to relate with and Ethan was rather oblivious at moments. Beautiful Creatures was an enjoyable read but I did not think it was fantastic.Also, the movie was awful and completely glosses over the major events in the book. Don’t waste your time.
Beautiful Creatures, Little, Brown & Company, 2009, 9780316042673