Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood


There Be Witches in YA! A Review of “Beautiful Creatures”

posted by Jana Riess

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You’ve probably noticed that I love YA and  read far too much of it, but people find out about my passion and then they keep recommending novels. . . . Darn you, people! And darn you, Kevin Stanford, for recommending Beautiful Creatures, which kept me up late two nights running.

Beautiful Creatures is set in a tiny South Carolina town where women clamor to be members of the DAR and men live for the one day a year that the village re-enacts its last stand against Sherman in the Civil War. Er, make that the War of Northern Aggression. The book is as drenched in small-town Southern sensibility as biscuits are in gravy.

Our hero, 16-year-old Ethan Wate, knows one thing for sure: he can’t live the rest of his life in Gatlin. He has a stack of college brochures under his bed and is biding his time until he can say good-bye to the town and to what’s left of his family, which was ripped in half by his mother’s death the year before.

But his life gets a lot more interesting when the hearse-driving Lena Duchannes moves in with her uncle, an odd recluse in a crumbling mansion at the edge of town. Ethan feels compelled to pursue Lena, who is literally the girl of his dreams–she has been haunting his nightmares for months. The two of them become entangled in a relationship that is both sweet and all-consuming as she prepares for what will be the most significant birthday of her life: her sixteenth.

Beautiful Creatures is a well-paced story with a lot going for it. It’s not in the same league as some of the best of recent YA (The Hunger Games, Graceling, This Gorgeous Game, Once Was Lost), but it has fantastic descriptions, strong characterizations (even of some of the minor players), and great creativity. There’s also a good dose of humor. I look forward to seeing more from these co-authors.

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The problem is the final 50 pages, which are rather rushed. The plot does not quite hang together at the end. Some of the plot elements that are hinted at throughout (which I don’t want to spoil here, but have to do with a Civil War-era curse, Ethan’s mother’s death, and how/whether Lena is able to decide her own fate) just don’t add up. At roughly 550 pages, this was already quite a tome, and I wonder if the authors hurried the denouement in order to meet a deadline or make a word count. I wish they hadn’t, because it would be a richer and more satisfying story if no plot threads were left dangling. Still, it’s a fun debut. You can check out the book trailer on YouTube. There’s also a sequel (which I hope will answer some of the questions left in the first book) called Beautiful Darkness, coming in October–just in time for Halloween.



  • Allen

    I too read a somewhat embarassing amount of YA fiction. I’ve read Beautiful Creatures and thought it was awesome. I’m currently reading the House of Night series and loving it. I would also recommend the books by Carrie Jones. She has some that are supernatural and some that are not, but they’re all great. She writes characters that you care about. Back to House of Night, you want to talk witches, OK they’re actually vampyres but there’s a huge dose of pagan ritual, goddess worship and a little Native American sprituality thrown in for good measure. It’s great stuff, pure fantasy.

  • Jana Riess

    Thanks for the reading recommendations. My favorite novels tend to be ones that have been recommended by other people . . . I will have to check out Carrie Jones.

  • http://www.stacylwhitman.com stacy

    Why be embarrassed about reading lots of YA? That’s where the good books are these days! I love it (and, as someone who works on these books for a living, I’m not biased or anything…).
    Interesting that you mention This Gorgeous Game as one of the best of recent YA. I’ve never even heard of it, though I know the author, so it makes me want to look it up. Yet more books to add to the pile. I’ve seen Beautiful Creatures around and heard good things about it, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Endings are so hard to do for so many authors–the lead-up is great, but suddenly it’s over. I find that happens over and over again in books I read (both already published and manuscripts I’m considering).
    If you’re looking for recommendations, there are always tons around the blogosphere. (I have a number of booklists on my blog as a result of friends asking for recommendations, including a list of multicultural fantasy and SF for children and young adults.)

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