Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review of Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is the story of Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes, two teenagers living in Gatlin, South Carolina. Ethan has lived in Gatlin his entire life. His father's family has always been rom Gatlin and he knows that for hi, there is no chance of escaping the Southern lifestyle in which he lives. The town is boring and Ethan can't wait until he has the chance to get out. Until Lena Duchannes enters town, that is.

Lena lives with her eccentric uncle, a member of the oldest family in Gatlin, the Ravenwoods. It becomes clear almost immediately that Gatlin hates Lena, and that Macon Ravenwood and Amma (who takes care of Ethan since his mother died and his father went crazy) don't want the two of them together. There's something different about Lena, and in spite of the fact that Ethan would rather not know what exactly that means, he soon finds out that being friends with Lena is going to involve a battle for both of them.

First of all, I need to tell you that I didn't like this book. I feel the need to be as clear about this as possible because as times goes on, I'm hoping that people will respect my views on books enough that I'm considered a reliable source for recommendations.

From the very beginning, I tried to tell myself that I was enjoying this book. I wanted so very much to like Beautiful Creatures that I lied to myself for the first two weeks that it took me to get through this. If you've been reading, you know that this has been very irritating to me. I tried hard to blame anything but the book. I've had several runs of bad luck with books that I haven't enjoyed (such as Atonement -- which I finally loved -- and Wicked -- which I never did come to love), but here lately this problem seems to be exacerbated to the extreme. I really didn't like Safe Haven, and I only gave it two stars on Amazon because I couldn't quite bring myself to rate it lower than that. I probably should have.

The truth is that I'm getting angry and frustrated with this turn in teen fiction. Why does everything have to be like Twilight and why are authors following in Suzanne Collins' footsteps just because The Hunger Games was so popular? I get that there isn't a lot of originality in the world any more. I understand that. Believe me, I get it by now. But I'd also like to see some kind of originality in fiction. Hook me, one way or another, and reel me in.

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl didn't do that. This book starts out slow. It reminds me, in fact, of my initial frustration with Safe Haven, which centered around my problems with the entire first third of the book being almost entirely devoted to nothing but character development. There was no action, no indication of anything happening at all in the story (and in Safe Haven, nothing ever really did happen). The problem with this kind of focus on character development is that most authors who do this can't pull it off, and it leaves the reader feeling frustrated and empty. In many cases, this results in the reader putting the book down and not picking it back up. And I have to ask Garcia and Stohl why they thought that this was a good idea.

In order to come to an acceptance of that, you're going to have to first understand that Ethan is not, in fact, a sixteen year old female. Or at least, that's the way that he comes across to anybody who has a basic understanding of male psychology and endocrinology (hormones). His emotional system is so basically female that it is frustrating to read him, and his feelings for Lena have nothing to do with the typical rush of teen male hormones that boys experience at that age. He doesn't interact the way that most teen males do, but he's part of the popular crowd. A boy who acts that feminine is alienated in most schools. 

Just a suggestion for these two authors: First person perspective from male point of view might not be wise when you are, yourself, female. Just saying.

It's worse that both Ethan and Lena act like people in their twenties or thirties. Their personalities are too fully developed for teenagers, their reactions to their situation too mature. Neither of them are believable teenagers. Emily and Savannah seem as though they're nothing but carbon copies of their DAR mothers, with all of the maturity that goes along with it. Albeit, we're seeing them from the external perspective rather than the insides of their minds, so we have to give them some credit.

I'm not going to touch how quickly these two fell in love. Imagining them as realistic teenagers is difficult, but five weeks isn't unusual for people their age, especially considering their emotional connection and their ability to feel one another's feelings and hear their thoughts. This isn't insta-love. But it is very like Twilight.

A few things that I think that potential readers need to be aware of, especially those screening books their teenagers may read:

  • There is some bad language in the book. It's not horrific and it's not real swearing. 
  • Casters are witches. There is some very realistic spell-casting in this book. If you don't want your child involved in ritual magic, you might want to avoid letting them read the Caster Chronicles generally. This isn't Harry Potter and the style of Craft isn't unrealistic in terms of modern Wicca. Your children, your right to decide (I personally don't have a problem with my children reading Harry Potter or similar).
  • The sexuality, once it arrives in the book, is big. While Ethan doesn't over sexualize anyone in his thoughts, there is a theme here, Ridley with her red lollypop, and the way that Ethan and Lena wind their bodies together is almost disgusting to read if you aren't looking for sexual practice and activity in the books that you read.
That's pretty much it for what I would want to know if I was reading reviews for my children. 

As for people who might like this book (and the rest of the series), I want to say fans of Twilight. The problem with that is that I am a fan o Twilight and I didn't like this book. I'm hesitant, because this book seemed to have borrowed from Stephenie Meyer and from Suzanne Collins at intervals. There are whole lines that could have been taken verbatim from Twilight (and I use the word correctly, in that there are lines that are identical to lines from Twilight).

I probably will not be reading the rest of the Caster Chronicles unless my best friend picks them up.

I'm curious to know your thoughts on this book. Did you enjoy Beautiful Creatures? Did you feel the same way about Ethan's character? Did you find this to be an easy read? Let me know what you thought!

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