This teen novel, the first in a series, is a supernatural Southern Gothic coming-of-age story featuring teenage Ethan, a boy who seems to be exactly like every other teenager in small-town Gatlin. But Ethan is different - he can't wait to go to college, to get out of the small town, away from the small-mindedness of his classmates, and away from the vacuum that was left in his life when his mother died. His father is holed up in his study, rarely coming out, as he works on his new book. If it weren't for Amma, his housekeeper/almost grandmother, Ethan would be completely lost.
Lately, though, strange things have been happening to him. He has vivid and upsetting dreams, and when he wakes up he finds that the dirt or water from the dreams has come back with him into the waking world. He is haunted by a song that plays on his iPod but vanishes when he looks for it.
Then the new girl walks into the school, and he is utterly and hopelessly lost. Lena Duchannes is like no one the town of Gatlin has ever seen, and Ethan is captivated by her. The rest of the students despise her because of her difference, especially when they find out that she's related to the town's recluse - and living at his "haunted mansion." Ethan feels a connection with Lena, and he casts everything aside in order to find out what it is, even as it becomes clear that Lena is in a hopeless, dangerous situation, part of a world that Ethan has never imagined could possibly exist.
I really enjoyed this teen novel - Ethan is a wonderful narrator whose words bring small-town Gatlin and its residents to life. There is a dramatic, angsty element to the book that will definitely appeal to fans of the Twilight series, but I felt it was handled more skilfully here, as the relationship between Lena and Ethan grows in a believable, healthy way so that I found myself rooting fervently for them.
Ethan's voice and the way he describes things was one of the things I liked best about the book. Here is what he says when he finds himself thinking about Lena all the time:
Maybe it was the way she wore that crazy necklace with all the junk on it, as if everything she touched could matter or did matter to her. Maybe it was the way she wore those beat-up sneakers whether she was wearing jeans or a dress, like she could take off running, any minute. When I looked at her, I was farther away from Gatlin than I'd ever been. Maybe it was that.I also loved the pervasive southern flavor of the story - the way the setting was such a part of the entire story, and the way that Ethan and Lena's story was connected to their families and the larger community. Ethan's elderly aunts were wonderful characters, and it was fun to watch Ethan interact with them. Here is a part that made me smile:
"What the heck are those?" I said without even thinking.
"Ethan Wate, you watch your mouth, or I'll have ta wash it out with soap. You know better than ta use profanity," Aunt Grace said. Which, as far as she was concerned, included words like panties, naked, and bladder."
"I'm sorry, ma'am. But what is that you've got in your hand?"
The characters and the story would have held my attention even without the supernatural aspects, which were interesting if not unique or surprising for the genre. There was some withholding of information on the part of the adults that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me - it served to heighten the tension and sense of mystery as the plot progressed, but looking back, I couldn't see why her family chose to keep Lena in the dark about so many things. I enjoyed having a story with romantic elements told from the point of view of the boy for a change, and told so believably. I adored the library and would like to work there some day (although would that mean I'd never get a day off, given how the library works?), and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.
Books in the Beautiful Creatures series:
1. Beautiful Creatures
2. Beautiful Darkness
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown and Company, First eBook Edition, 2009)
Also reviewed at:
Beyond Books: "There is suspense, humour, tragedy, awkwardness and magic all rolled up into one fantastically told story."
My Friend Amy: " I struggled to get into at first because the writing seemed really...plain. Not very descriptive or something. But I did really like the setting and the world.."
The Story Siren: "Writing was outstanding, pacing was right on, I could not get through the pages fast enough! The whole story was just fascinating, I just loved it, every small aspect. It just worked."
The Written World: "On the one hand I really liked it, but on the other hand things about it really bothered me to the point where I had to put it down and get some distance from it. I liked the story, but the characters drove me crazy."