Sunday, April 11, 2010

review: Beastly by Alex Flinn

Beastly by Alex Flinn. HarerTeen, 2007 (978-0-06-087416-2) $16.99; 2008 (978-0-06-087418-6) $6.99 trade pb

Kyle Kingsbury is the boy who (apparently) has everything. Looks, money, a famous (albeit distant and demanding) father. He's the prince of his high school and he sees no need at all to be nice to the littler guys--quite the opposite in fact. But when Kyle spews some mean boy malice in the wrong direction, he discovers he's made a huge mistake. As punishment for being ugly within, he's magically transformed into his "truer self," a hideous beast. Kyle has two years to break the curse, if he can find someone to fall in love with his grotesque self--and love her back. As the witch he cursed him bitingly points out, "that will be the hardest part for you."

This retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" has two novelty points: it's set in the modern world and it's from the Beast's point of view. Flinn uses both departures from the norm to create a unique story. A Beast in the computer age has special opportunities: he joins a chat room for victims of "Unexpected Changes" where he gets support from "SilentMaid," "Froggie" and "Grizzlyguy," and (in my favorite scene), he uses his magic mirror to discover who actually lives behind the cute nicknames at MySpace, where he had hoped to find true love online. "The next profiles I looked at turned out to be: A 40-something housewife who asked for naked pictures. An old guy. A 10-year-old girl. A police officer. All said they were my age and female. I hoped the cop was there trying to catch the other pervs. I typed a warning to the ten-year-old girl, and she messaged back, yelling that I wasn't her mother."

Since the story is narrated by the Beast, it also becomes focused on the transformative powers of being a lonely outsider, as well as that of love. This Beast is not tamed by love as much as by his need for it; he has already become a very different person from the spoiled boy he starts out as by the time "Beauty" enters his life. He's even changed his name, from Kyle, which means "handsome" to Adrian, "dark one."

I liked the more original elements of this retelling more than the attempts to squeeze all the traditional elements into it, which sometimes felt a bit strained. I also thought the story relied a little too heavily on the Disney movie version--though that may just be because I'm most familiar with that one myself. The chat room scenes with other fairy tale characters throughout the book are funny and a bit sad, but wind up feeling out of place because Adrian's regular narration never mentions them, except for one short section about noticing a website. Are they a real part of his life or not?

Those quibbles aside, this was a very satisfying story. It's a shame that the cover just screams "GIRL BOOK" because it has a general appeal. I hope that YA librarians are managing to get it in to the right hands. (14 & up)

© 2010 Wendy E. Betts

FTC disclosure: Review copy provided by the public library. This blog is completely independent, but I receive a small percentage if you order books from Powell's via this site.

Other blog reviews:

Reading for Refuge
Reading Addict
Live. Laugh. Read.
Little Miss Reader

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