by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
I tend to like just about everything I read these days. My stack of urgent reading is so large that it almost always contains something I’m eager to read, and if that disappoints at first, there’s always something else to start. Beautiful Creatures titrates right down to the edge. The movie trailer seemed good, and The Hunger Games and Divergence were so much fun that I hoped for another YA find.
This is the story of a young fellow in Gatlin, South Carolina, who falls for the New Girl In Town. Unlike everyone else in Gatlin, she’s not from here. She’s lived in distant places. She thinks deep thoughts. The other girls hate her.
Oh, and her whole family are supernaturals. And on her 16th birthday, she has to make an irrevocable choice between light and dark.
There are good bits here. I enjoyed the moment when, telling off her sexy and evil older cousin, our heroine shouts, “Get away from my boyfriend, witch!” The co-authors insert themselves neatly into the book as a pair of librarians. The writing is clean for the most part, though an editor should have noticed that, when a character is knocked unconscious at the end of a chapter and looks at “my cell” at the start of next, readers may assume that he’s observing his place of confinement, not his iPhone screen.
But, in the end, Garcia and Stohl never engage the fear they’re writing about. That fear is the mystery of puberty as experienced by pre-adolescents: suddenly, kids you’ve known, kids who were simply “big kids” on the periphery of your life but still part of society, are transformed into something else. They don’t have time for you. Some of them get ugly. Some of them get mean. And the clock is ticking: one day you will wake up and be one of them.
Beyond the big flaw, there are lots of technical issues. Ethan, our hero, tells us a lot about small town Southern life. He has known no other life, but his is an outsider’s description. Scout Finch can get away with this because her dad’s a loner, but Ethan’s family are insiders back to the War of Rebellion. Where does he get his perspective?
It’s not clear to me that this ought to be a Southern Story; formally, it’s a New England story (the past rises up to kill you) and not a Southern Gothic (there is a terrible secret). And there are lots of little things: when our best friend ditches school vacation at Bible Camp and heads to New York for a week with a girlfriend’s older, supernaturally hot cousin, nobody appears to ask him the question that’s got to come first amongst the sophomore boys: how far did you get? This whole book is about sex, but nobody is ever permitted to think about it.
Note to readers: I’m in a foul, foul mood. I did finish the book, despite its length and in spite of all temptations to belong to other nations. Perhaps on another day I’d have overlooked more faults and seen more virtues.