Ethan Wate is sixteen, living in Gatlin, South Carolina. Nothing happens in Gatlin. Ever. When Ethan begins to have nightmares—painful nightmares about losing a girl he’s never met—he begins to feel that perhaps something is going to happen. It happens sooner than he could have expected, with the arrival of the mysterious niece of the Gatlin shut-in, Old Man Ravenwood. Her name is Lena Duchannes, and she doesn’t fit in. In fact, she sounds a lot like me in high school—black hair, black clothes, writing on her hands, and tons of jewelry. Something is different about her, and Ethan can feel it. This feeling goes from mild curiosity to utter confusion when Ethan realizes this mysterious girl is the girl in his dreams. But what is she hiding? What is she so afraid of? And can Ethan do anything to save her, or is the world of Lena Dechannes a world in which Ethan could never exist?
I’m talking, of course, about Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl—a debut YA novel, intended for teens but applicable for all ages. This is a paranormal romance, at its most basic. Its two lead characters—Ethan and Lena—can communicate telepathically, for instance. Some weird, wacky stuff happens that I will not explain here (don’t wanna give it away!), but I will say this stuff keeps you guessing. There is much talk of the “Caster world.” There is a version of time travel, thanks to an antique locket, that allows Ethan and Lena to see into Civil War Gatlin. And most importantly, there is much discussion of going “Dark” or going “Light.”
This paranormal aspect is all well and good, but it’s not what Beautiful Creatures is about. Beautiful Creatures is a character study. At the center is narrator Ethan Wate. First off, Ethan is a wonderful narrator. I enjoy and relate to the world through his eyes, because he is just like the rest of us. He’s not melodramatic, and he’s not in love with a forlorn vampire (for example). Ethan just exists as any sixteen-year-old would—trying to survive high school, the recent death of his mother, and a father who has locked himself away, physically and emotionally. Lena is a troubled young woman. It’s easy to look at the exterior painted by Garcia and Stohl, reminiscent of Kurt Cobain mourners of the late nineties, and call cliché. But that’s just her exterior. There is a lot more going on with this girl! A lot more than most of us will ever, ever go through, and again, I won’t get into the specifics here, but she’s having a rough time, dang it!
What we CAN all relate to is the relationship between Ethan and Lena. They’re kids, sure, but how old were Romeo and Juliet, huh? If they could fall in love, why can’t Ethan and Lena? Their relationship is fully developed over the course of these 600-plus pages. It starts the way most high school relationships start, but it continues. It develops, to a point where you—the reader—root for them. Scenes are heart-warming; scenes are heart-breaking. There are moments toward the end of the book when Ethan and Lena clutch to each other, wishing the world would fall away and leave them be—where they wonder, “Why can’t everyone and everything just disappear so we can be HAPPY?” This is humanity. This is universal. This is the way Garcia and Stohl capture our attention and our sympathy, in the midst of yet another YA paranormal romance. You will relate to these characters, and in turn, you will love these characters. And when the book ends, you will be screaming, “When’s the next one coming out?!” Because there will be a next one.
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garci and Margaret Stohl is a YA paranormal romance in the midst of many current YA paranormal romances. Yet, it exists above the others. The dialogue is expressive, honest, and at times, comical. The book is action-packed. It is a mystery, and you will struggle through the Caster World puzzle pieces, through to the book’s conclusion. However, most importantly, Garcia and Stohl know their characters. These authors feel the loss of Ethan’s mother. They feel Lena’s fear of the future. They understand the dread of lost love. In this understanding of the human condition, Garcia and Stohl achieve literary genius.
Keep up with the world of Beautiful Creatures here: http://beautifulcreaturesthebook.com/. Go buy the book while you’re at it.