Welcome to Day 1 of our Young Adult Appreciation Month ( July 18 to August 21). For the duration of the month we will be celebrating all things YA with loads of reviews, giveaways and guest posts by YA authors.
Today is dedicated to Romance. I chose to review Beastly by Alex Flinn and Forget You by Jennifer Echols together because the two books have a couple of things in common on top of being contemporary romances: they are both heartwarming, quick reads and all four protagonists have fathers who deserve the Worst Parent of the Year Award. And regardless of a few misgivings, I enjoyed both books a great deal.
Beastly by Alex Flinn
How did I get this book: A present from a friend.
I am a beast. A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog, but a horrible new creature who walks upright – a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever – ruined – unless I can break the spell.
Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and a perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly beastly.
I must have been living under a rock or something because I only heard about Beastly a few weeks ago when a friend gave it to me and told me it was about to become a movie. I saw the trailer and decided I had to read the book pronto. And here we are.
Beastly is another retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in contemporary NY and entirely from the beast’s point of view which makes it, as far as I can tell, unique amongst the tale’s retellings.
Kyle Kingsbury, our beast du jour, has it all: money, looks, popularity, friends and a hot girlfriend. He is also a jerk. His latest dastardly move is to lead on and invite a weird girl named Kendra to a dance only to humiliate her in front of everybody. Big mistake. Kendra is a modern-day witch and she curses Kyle to become a beast – to look as awful on the outside as he is inside. But because Kyle does this one kind thing on the night of the dance (he gives a rose to the girl selling tickets at the door) , the witch gives him a way out: he has two years to break the curse which can only be broken by a kiss from someone that loves him but only if he truly loves this someone back.
Kyle’s reaction to the curse is to first laugh it off (come on, magic? Witch? As if, it must be a dream) then to despair. His father believes he has a disease and takes him to the best doctors available but they can only be mystified and their verdict is that there is nothing to be done. Kyle’s father then decides that no one can know about his son’s “condition” and promptly dispatches him to a house in Brooklyn where he will live with a maid and a blind tutor where he will eventually learn to become a better person.
The best thing about the book is Kyle’s transformation and this insight about the Beast of the story is great. From being an egotistical jerk to realising that there is more to life than looks and popularity, the first part of the book – or the first year of the curse – follows Kyle and his slow transformation. It shows his uneasy, terrible relationship with an absent father; his despair and depression that he might be a beast forever and even feeble attempts to find someone to love online; his eventual acceptance that there might not have a way out and then the beginnings of a new life. Forming a true, believable relationship with his maid and with his tutor; studying and reading and paying attention to the world around him. This transformation is so profound that he even chances his name to Adrian.
Until one day, hope blossoms . A thief tries to break into his house and upon being caught by Kyle, ends up offering his own daughter Lindy to the beast on lieu of being sent to prison. Kyle accepts the offer. Lindy of course, turns out to be the girl he gave the rose at the beginning of the story to and he hopes she will love him one day. The relationship is difficult to start with because Lindy is effectively a prisoner and she hates being trapped. But they soon forge a friendship when they start to read and study together and Kyle falls in love hard but will Lindy love him back?
I liked that from the beast’s point of view, he does feel terrible about it all, at the same time that he sees no other way, perhaps this is his only chance to break the curse. We all know that the Beast eventually lets Lindy go and it is her choice to return for him. The same happens here but I felt that Lindy was less of a believable character and it is this second part that proves slightly problematic to me and somewhat diminished my enjoyment of the novel. I found that Lindy was too easy in forgiving Kyle/Adrian for ruining her life. Yes, so he rescued her from a life with a horrible father (who gave her away at the first sign of trouble) but still he made her a prisoner, made her lose her chance of getting a scholarship to college, something that was her one and only chance of getting away from her horrible life with her dad.
Furthermore Lindy is presented as being the ultimate good heroine: a martyr for her father, always taking care of him even when he beats her up and extremely naïve and innocence. There is one scene in particular when Kyle/Adrian takes her to the countryside to see the snow. Lindy’s reaction is that of a child, asking after only a couple of hours driving if they were “still in the USA”. Really? The girl is presented as a smart, intelligent, studious girl in the 21st century and she doesn’t know that there are OMG, mountains in the US? This is something that makes me angry, because it sounds as though a person cannot be “good” without being pathetically innocent. That somehow put the two in different level and makes it less of a believable romance in the end. This is why I think the movie seems to be promising: the trailer shows Lindy in a much more interesting light with a bit more of personality.
Still, fun is to be had as I enjoyed to read the story from the Beast’s point of view. And there are these really fun additions peppered throughout the novel of the “Unexpected Changes” chat group that Kyle attends online where he chats with other teenaged fairytale characters that are undergoing changes like the Little Mermaid (who is considering a transformation,) and froggy (who thinks he will never find a princess to kiss him) that were really creative.
Rating:6 – Good. Recommended with reservations
Forget You by Jennifer Echols
How did I get this book: an ARC from the author
WHY CAN’T YOU CHOOSE WHAT YOU FORGET . . . AND WHAT YOU REMEMBER? There’s a lot Zoey would like to forget. Like how her father has knocked up his twenty-four- year old girlfriend. Like Zoey’s fear that the whole town will find out about her mom’s nervous breakdown. Like darkly handsome bad boy Doug taunting her at school. Feeling like her life is about to become a complete mess, Zoey fights back the only way she knows how, using her famous attention to detail to make sure she’s the perfect daughter, the perfect student, and the perfect girlfriend to ultra-popular football player Brandon. But then Zoey is in a car crash, and the next day there’s one thing she can’t remember at all—the entire night before. Did she go parking with Brandon, like she planned? And if so, why does it seem like Brandon is avoiding her? And why is Doug—of all people— suddenly acting as if something significant happened between the two of them? Zoey dimly remembers Doug pulling her from the wreck, but he keeps referring to what happened that night as if it was more, and it terrifies Zoey to admit how much is a blank to her. Controlled, meticulous Zoey is quickly losing her grip on the all-important details of her life—a life that seems strangely empty of Brandon, and strangely full of Doug.
Forget You was one of my most anticipated reads of 2010 after I loved, no, adored this author’s 2009 book, Going Too Far, a novel that made my top 10 last year. Forget You turned out to be an extremely well written story that pulled me in, even when it shouldn’t have. I devoured it like a starved reader but the end result was nowhere near as emotionally satisfying as Going Too Far. Perhaps it is not fair to compare both novels or to come to this one with such high expectations but that is how things are, to pretend that it is not so, would do me no good. And who knows, to make this plain in this review, will perhaps help to enlighten why I felt the way I felt when reading it.
The way I see it, both novels are very similar, expect when it matters the most. Both are set in small towns where the characters live under the weight of expectations, of their pasts or with the mask they wear in public. Both follow a similar pattern, with secrets being slowly revealed to the reader about who the characters are, building tension towards the ending when conflicts are resolved. But whereas in Going Too Far the conflicts (both internal and external) were believable, relatable which made caring truly and deeply for the characters an easy ride, in Forget You they seemed contrived.
Zoey is the seemly perfect girl, from a moneyed family, a good student, member of the swim team at school; she has many friends, including a popular boy named Brandon and she is in control of her life, or tries to be. But she is faced with so many things out of her control: her father leaves to start a new family with a lover and her mother tries to commit suicide, and is sent to a mental institution to recover. Her father forbids her to tell anyone about her mother but she knows that the resident bad boy Doug, whom she has a difficult relationship with, has seen them at the hospital and she doesn’t know what he will do with the information.
The only thing that Zoey still has control of is her body and on the night of her mother’s suicide attempt, she decides to sleep and lose her virginity to Brandon. It is a quick, non eventful affair but Zoey is adamant that this one night with Brandon means something and that he is her boyfriend.
A few days later, she is involved in a car crash. She wakes up the next day with a concussion and with Doug, not Brandon behaving as though they have something going on between them and no memory of it. Her father –the winner of Worst Parent Award – leaves for his honeymoon, but not before threatening Zoey with a trip to the loony bin if she keeps on “pretending” to have amnesia. What a champ. But now she needs to put the pieces together and try to remember what happened that night.
The novel starts well enough, it is easy to understand why Zoey makes the choices she makes when she makes them, she is very, very human. And I love Jennifer Echols’ writing and the greatest similarity between her two dramatic novels and a positive one at it, is indeed her prose and the construction of the novel. If I were to compare with anything it would be with an impressionist painting: with small smidges of paint or in this case details that only become whole or understandable when you look at it from afar or once it is completed.
But this story proved to be less inspiring, less challenging than I hoped for…….the romance between Doug and Zoey is sweet but their connection seemed to be based more on lust. Not that there is anything wrong with that, hell no, but since they exchange I love you’s pretty soon, it didn’t feel believable.
And that is because the conflict felt extremely excessive and contrived. Life can be messy, complicated, and full of mistakes and bad decisions, I get that. But the one thing that prevented Zoey from forming a relationship with Doug, was her insistence that she is dating Brandon: even though they don’t talk, don’t see each other, never once discussed being together AND he is seeing another girl. Denial makes it an interesting part of it all, and the reason for that denial makes sense, but since Zoey is presented as an intelligent young girl, who, as his friend, KNEW Brandon’s propensity to jump from girl to girl, it felt like it was unnecessarily prolonged. Similarly, Doug is represented as being a bad boy but I saw literally ZERO proof of this. Yes, he spent some time at juvie but that was due to his horrendous father and there is absolutely nothing that concurs with this assessment. He is a good guy through and through, even when he makes his own mistakes.
The prose, the two characters who are so human (and saddled with poor excuse of a parents) make it for an interesting, enjoyable read but one that is not as emotional and satisfying as I hoped.
Rating: 6 – Good. Recommended with reservations
AND, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE HEREBY DECLARE:
THE BOOK SMUGGLERS’ YOUNG ADULT APPRECIATION MONTH OFFICIALLY OPEN.