Skip to main content

Beautiful Creatures

Review

Beautiful Creatures

This lively and impressive fantasy immerses readers in the historic southern town of Gatlin, where small minds rule and originality slowly suffocates. The arrival of gothic beauty Lena Duchannes piques the interest of Ethan Wate while simultaneously enraging the entire non-magical community. As Gatlin’s belles and beaus prepare for their witch hunt, Ethan and Lena discover each other and learn some startling truths behind Lena’s powers and her unique and disturbing family heritage.

Lena’s arrival in Gatlin coincides with Ethan’s dreams about her. In these dreams --- as well as in real life --- Lena is strikingly lovely and unusual. She has curly black hair and alluring green eyes and is a poet who dresses in gothic style. No one at Gatlin High mistakes her for an ordinary southern belle, although she might seem to be outside of the sleepy southern town. The entire basketball team agrees that Lena is “hot,” but none except Ethan are willing to give her the time of day.

This is partly because Lena is the niece of Macon Ravenwood, but it’s mostly due to the fact that she’s different from the rest of them. The townies are church-society folks, many of whom still attend regular meetings of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). They’re disgusted by the fact that Lena never even attempts to become a dismal clone of one of them, and the girls enjoy tormenting her daily. Ethan and his friend, Link, are the only ones who ever offer Lena real friendship, and Ethan cares enough to stand up for Lena at the expense of his own social acceptability.

It only takes about three seconds before Ethan begins thinking about something more than friendship with Lena. The two become instant friends, but always with hidden thoughts of more. They approach each other with the purpose of really getting to know one another rather than jumping into a quick, heated love affair. In the process, Ethan discovers many unusual things about Lena's family and her future. Lena and her family are “casters,” wielders of magic of many varieties. Their abilities are unique to the individual, and some are more powerful than others.

There are two different orders among casters: the dark and the light. Lena thus far has become neither, a fact that haunts her more and more with each passing day. She is what is known as a “natural” and is on a countdown to the day of her 16th birthday when she will be “claimed.” And she's frightened because casters have no choice in what they become. As the days pass by, Ethan and Lena become as close as two hearts can be, but they approach a mounting and unknown danger and discover a little more about it every day.

The book’s themes connect with readers in unique ways as they are echoed not only in the storyline but through carefully chosen quotations of important characters and from people throughout history. The words of the first page tell a great deal and frame the story perfectly:   

“‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
Only light can do that
Hate cannot drive out hate;
Only love can do that.’
 -- Martin Luther King Jr.”

“‘I wanted you to see what real courage is…
It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin
But you begin anyway and you see it through
No matter what.’
-- Harper Lee”

I was very impressed with BEAUTIFUL CREATURES and surprised that it’s a debut novel for co-authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. The storytelling feels both modern and natural, and the writing is alive and commanding. A variety of clever and original ideas gives the book its continuous allure. Its pace is consistently quick, never slowing down once through the 600-plus pages. There are a number of fantastic, well-designed characters who draw readers in from the very start. One of my favorites is the town’s quirky librarian, a wonderful lady who serves both the magical and non-magical citizens of Gatlin. I also adored Lena’s great-uncle Macon and Ethan’s “adoptive mother,” Amma. I’m betting there are many people in the book --- good and bad --- to whom readers will be able to relate.

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is an impressive work that goes against the grain of so many formulaic teenage dramas: the romance of Lena and Ethan is both enjoyable and respectable. Like Lena herself, their relationship isn’t stereotypical of most teenagers --- it is realistic to their feelings at the time and evolves slowly to become a timeless love. By the end of the book, it is clear that their love for each other is meant to last through the ages. The greater messages of the novel are impressive, too, as they are ones that carry real value. I look forward to seeing what Garcia and Stohl have to offer readers in the future.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on October 18, 2011

Beautiful Creatures
by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

  • Publication Date: December 1, 2009
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Hardcover: 563 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316042676
  • ISBN-13: 9780316042673