Written by: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Synopsis: 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
Challenges: Urban Fantasy for Book'd Out's Eclectic Reader Challenge
Ok, I'm going to put my biases where you can see them. I dislike A LOT of YA, mainly because YA seems to be full of fantasy romance books a la Twilight.
Twilight ruined a lot of things for me, vampires, YA, romance...it's a bad series, and it spawned a bunch of imitators which made delving into YA even harder. I know this isn't fair - sure there are Twilight imitators, but I unfairly group any book that has ties to Twilight, fantasy elements, mythical creatures, romance plot, forbidden love etc, into the 'nah-uh no way' basket. I'm trying to break this habit because it isn't fair on the authors who work hard on their books to be ignored because of an author that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with them. Perhaps I'll find out that I'm not cut out for this genre anyway, but for now I'm trying really hard to push those judgements away and look at the book objectively.
Enter Beautiful Creatures. This is a series that shares some clear ties to Twilight, there's the boy and girl with the unavoidable bond, the character with the mythical secret, a family (or two) that forbids the relationship, and a sense of danger that surrounds the couple and the town. I really wanted this to be the book to change my mind of the genre, and while I enjoyed a great deal of it, today isn't the day.
So a lot of it is par for the course, our narrator Ethan feels out of place in his backwards Southern hick town. But he's not actually an outsider, he's firmly part of the cool crowd. He's a natural on the basketball team, he's dated the second hottest girl in school, and he seems to have a pretty decent group of friends. But he's desperate to get out of there and separate himself from this world as soon as he turns 18. On his first day back at school he hears talk of a new girl, and coincidentally he's been having dreams about a girl he's never met and shock, be still my beating heart, he realises she's the girl from his dreams, literally. She's the opposite to everyone at his school. Where all the girls are cheerleader cookie cut-outs, Lena wears a lot of black, has a weird charm necklace and drive around in her Boo Radley-esque uncle's hearse (GET IT SHE'S DIFFERENT). Ethan desperately wants to get to know her, but she's not so eager to reciprocate, or so it seems anyway. Oh, and aside from dreaming about her, it turns out Ethan and Lena can speak to each other telepathically. Because they're made for each other. Clearly.
Having Ethan be our narrator is an interesting decision, and it does definitely separate the book from being a complete Twilight clone, but I'm not so sure the authors have met many teenage boys. Granted, I've never been one myself, but he's so sappy and flowery and dramatic and focuses way too much on describing what Lena is wearing that particular day. I did like hearing his story and seeing him deal with the loss of his mother and his shut-in father, but you could have changed the name to Ethania, the girlfriends to boyfriends, and basketball to softball and there wouldn't have been much more editing needed. His internal conflict is interesting in theory, but there's a weakness to how it actually plays out. The main conceit of their relationship is that she's different, the town dislikes different, if he sides with her he becomes different too. But he whines so much about how the people at school are shallow and not really people he wants to identify with, I don't really understand why it's a big deal if he can't spend lunch times with them any more. It seemed more like he was there because he had nowhere else to go, and now he does have somewhere else to go, so what's the problem?
Now, Lena's world and conflict is far more interesting, though still flawed. She's a caster (i.e. witch) and the construction of this world was an interesting one. Each caster has a unique form of power in addition with the general witchy ability to move objects and so forth. Some are healers, some are able to see through time, others can assimilate other powers and some, like Lena are 'naturals' which means they're quite powerful and uh, can do things to nature? I think? In the caster world you choose whether to be either light or dark, but in Lena's family a curse chooses it for you at 16. So regardless of how good and kind and thoughtful Lena may have been for 15 years, 11 months and 29 days, if fate decrees she's going to be evil, she's going to be evil. Understandably Lena gets pretty angsty about this, and much of the novel deals with Lena coming to terms/not really coming to terms with this at all.
I wish they'd made Lena and Ethan friends instead of a couple, because a lot of the plot choices made around the concept of their burgeoning love felt forced. What Lena needed was a friend, and much of the conflict in the book could still have existed if they were friends not lovers. Ethan still would have antagonised the town by choosing to be friends with the weirdo, their families could still try to keep them separated, and the stakes for her 16th birthday would have remained the same. It also would have eliminated a great deal of the length, which this book could have used, and that would have actually been rather revolutionary for a paranormal YA.
Outside of the two protagonists though, the quality of the characters go both ways. Lena's evil cousin sounds like Juliet from Lollipop Chainsaw, Ethan's dad was unfleshed out (but could have been fascinating) and the rabble-rousers in the town were conveniently one-dimensional. Ethan and Lena's guardians on the other hand, Amma and Macon respectively, were pretty great. Amma is the bossy Southern housekeeper that you always read in books set in the South, but that doesn't make her sassiness any less fabulous. If Ethan's father had been a little better developed, her role as Ethan's surrogate mum could have been even more dynamic. Macon, Lena's uncle, is basically the male equivalent of Amma in every sense, and the casting of Jeremy Irons in this role makes perfect sense. Again, the relationship could have used a little development, but there were a few moments between them that just shone.
It's those few glimpses that make me think that the series could perhaps go on to some pretty great heights, as long as the authors strive to challenge the genre and themselves, rather than just settling back into comfortable mediocrity. I had some issues with this book, clearly, but I was engaged most of the way through the 500+ pages. It didn't tick all the necessary boxes for me, but I could see how people could love this book, and if you've ever enjoyed books in the paranormal/fantasy/YA genres it's probably just the book you're looking for.