Beautiful Creatures | Caster Chronicles #1 | ISBN 9780316042673 | Little, Brown, 2009 | 1 out of 5 Points
“Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them. In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.”
It took me two attempts and a lot of willpower to finish this book. The first time I just wasn’t interested enough and put it down after a couple of chapters. The second time was after that god awful movie adaptation came out in 2013 and my friend, who enjoyed the book, told me the book’s ending was completely different after we’d left the cinema and that I should read it. She wasn’t lying. The book is quite different from the film. In fact I think the book is worse. At least the film offers some very lovely cinematography to distract you from the story. The book however gives you nothing.
THE GOOD OL’ RACIST SOUTH
What’s bothered me most about “Beautiful Creatures” was the depiction of the US South and Southern culture because they hypocrisy was real, y’all. First person narrator Ethan Wate keeps going on and on about how horrible the South is, how everyone is stupid and boring and how he is the only intellectual in all of Gatlin, his small South Carolina home town. Once Lena shows up this gets even worse. She and Ethan basically get off on telling each other how smart and different they are and how boring, stupid and worthless everyone else is. Since this book is told from Ethan’s point of view it’s like listening to a seventeen year old Hipster rambling on and on about the boring mainstream and the shallowness of the modern world, yeah, we get it, you’re Cool with a capital C.
The thing is, Ethan isn’t cool. He’s sexist and small minded which is a real kicker considering he keeps calling other people small minded. He thinks it’s okay to call girls sluts, makes fun of a girl for being “fat” because she doesn’t fit into a size zero like all of her friends and keeps making these horrible objectifying remarks about the girls around him. His ex is hot but stupid, her friends are sexy but shallow, you get the gist. I get why Emily hates him even though Ethan pretends like she has no reason to. If my ex called me stupid, shallow and obnoxious all the time but still made comments about how hot my legs looked I’d hate him too. I’d hate him like poison.
Ethan is also really shallow. The reason Ethan thinks Lena is different is because she dresses like she fell into a charity collection bin and not like “all the other girls” meaning Emily and her friends. Ethan totally judges others by the way they look and dress whilst at the same time judging Emily and the other girls for caring about how others look and dress.That hypocrisy, I tell you.
Then of course there’s the racism. This book is set in South Carolina and a big chunk of the story revolves around something that happened during the Civil War: A white Confederacy soldier falling in love with a white plantation owner’s daughter. This could’ve worked if the authors hadn’t been so ignorant. Let’s make it short and sweet: This book doesn’t mention slavery once. Not once. It even states the Civil War was about cotton. I can’t even tell you how bad this is. It’s bad. It’s so bad. So Garcia and Stohl managed to write a love story between two white people heavily contributing to and profiting from racism and slavery but they didn’t manage to mention once that slavery happened? Are you fucking kidding me? Genevieve’s father does own slaves but Garcia and Stohl are quick to reassure us that the slaves are treated really well at her father’s plantation, definitely nothing shady happening there! The authors basically describe the slaves like normal workers blissfully ignoring the part where they’re not getting paid, can’t leave and are treated as less than human. Please excuse me while I throw up. Honestly? There is no “good” way of owning other human beings and forcing them to work for you for free. There is no okay way of doing that. Ever. We shouldn’t even have to say that. There is no way in hell I’m going to excuse this blatant erasure of slavery and its horrors.
But sure, let’s pretend the slaves are treated really well and slavery is totally not a bad thing and the war wasn’t about rich Southern people wanting to be able to own human beings but about cotton and move on so we can make our readers invested in this totally cool love story between two white Southern people. Doomed love, y’all! They can’t be together! I don’t care, okay. I don’t care about these two people. I care about you pretending like slavery wasn’t so bad, I care about you omitting one of the worst crimes ever commited against basic human rights in favour of throwing this bland love story between a Confederacy soldier and a plantation owner’s daughter at me. Gross.
SOUTHERN GOTHIC? WELL, YOU TRIED…
So the characters are unlikable and the portrayal of Southern history is disappointing to say the least. What else could have gone wrong? It’s also horribly sexist, surprise! It’s not only Ethan’s comments, it’s the whole concept of good and bad casters. Lena is a caster and on her sixteenth birthday her fate will be decided: Will she be a good caster or will she be a bad caster? Lena’s cousin Ridley is the epitome of “bad caster”, she’s everything Lena is scared to become. Does she have horrible dark powers? Is she evil and dangerous? Um… not really.
Ridley is a teenage girl in short clothes who likes to flirt and wear black. So basically wearing short clothes and being sexually active are considered signs of an evil person and it’s the worst thing that could happen to Lena. But Ella, maybe she was this person before she became a dark caster and her behaviour has nothing to do with it? You could argue this except Stohl and Garcia make it pretty clear that Ridley was such a good girl before she turned sixteen. So no. Dark magic turned her into a slut which is, in the world of this book, a horrible thing. Gross.
When you strip all of this away to look at the actual story you’ll realise there’s not much there. This book is 560 pages of nothing. Ethan feels misunderstood and wants to leave Gatlin. He meets Lena, a witch, whose fate will be decided on her sixteenth birthday. That’s it. Lena and Ethan fall in instant love of course, then they try to make sure Lena will become a good witch, then a ridiculous villain shows up and wants Lena to become a dark witch for whatever reason and then it’s over. You could have told this story in 300 pages or less. It’s dragged out and padded with more filler than actual story. It’s nothing special. This is basically the same story we’ve seen in YA paranormal romance since “Twilight” and probably even since before that. There’s nothing redeeming here, nothing surprising or original.
Well, you might say, that’s disappointing. But at least the blurb promises “overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South” so maybe it’s at least fun for Southern Gothic enthusiasts? No. No, it is not. This book is so badly written it’s not even funny anymore. Ethan’s first person narrative reads so contrived it hurts, stilted dialogues take the fun out of every page and somehow the two authors have managed to fill paragraph after paragraph with long descriptions and facts about Gatlin and its people without being able to actually conjure up any images of this small forgotten Southern town. That’s an achievement. But the writing is so bad, so thin and boring and pale that there can’t be any atmosphere, it just won’t work. It’s not there. There’s nothing beautiful or eerie or atmospheric about “Beautiful Creatures”. It tries so hard to be a Southern Gothic love story but it’s just your usual bland YA book with the small exception that this time a human guy gets to fall in love with a paranormal girl and not the other way around. The thing is, the most atmospheric thing about “Beautiful Creatures” is that line from the blurb I quoted and that’s just sad.
The thing is, this book was big a few years ago. It was said to be different, brilliant. It’s not. It’s bad. It’s mindless drivel, badly written, a story you’ve read before, with unlikable heroes and some really questionable messages concerning American history. It’s also pretentious, sexist and boring. I don’t get the appeal and, what’s worse, I’m seriously worried that so many people are okay with the blatant erasure and romanticisation of the horrors of slavery and the Civil War. That so many people are still okay with male protagonists calling girls stupid sluts for the way they dress or decide to behave, for being confident and having sex. That this shit is thrown at impressionable teenagers who feel different too and think it’s so cute how Ethan picks odd Lena instead of one of the pretty shallow girls that fawn over him. This book is basically making bank on erasing an important part of American history and on teenage girls’ insecurities. Gross.
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