Beastly, by Alex Flinn

Pretty soon, I’m going to run out of ways to talk about Beauty and the Beast stories. I’m sorry, I just cannot help loving stories about redemption and true love, no matter how corny or dramatic. Plus I haven’t read many books that tell the Beast’s story.

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Kyle Kingsbury is the prince of his high school: popular, good-looking, and enormously wealthy. But when he gets on the wrong side of his classmate, Kendra, she transforms him into a beast. Kyle’s father leaves him in a huge Brooklyn brownstone, with only a maid named Magda and a conveniently blind tutor named Will for company. Now stripped of everything he knows and loves, he must learn to love another, and be loved in return, in two year’s time; otherwise, he will stay a beast forever.

I mentioned once that this was one of the first YA fairy tale retellings to capture my imagination, and it still kind of does. It was a genius idea to tell Beauty and the Beast from the Beast’s perspective. The loneliness and despair cut deep, and it provides a character arc that few writers have explored, since it’s usually Beauty’s story. Not that the Beast has never had a character arc (ahem, Disney), but it’s just as interesting to witness one’s redemption as it is to see one’s eyes opening to all forms of love. Plus, the Beauty of this story, Lindy, has crooked teeth and mousy hair; she is, as Kyle remarks once, plain, ranking up more relatability points.

What’s also refreshing is that Kendra doesn’t just disappear after she curses Kyle—something that bothers me about some iterations of the fairy tale. Rather she gives him advice, and some in-character snark, from time to time. Although annoyed with him, she does want to help him become a better person, which is a comfort with how hopeless Kyle’s situation seems at times.

Modernized fairy tales can be easy to pull off, but they still have to strike the right balance between olden-day and modern sensibility. The setting of modern-day New York has a grungy, dark feel, befitting the loneliness and vastness of the Beast’s soul. But, unless this is a Baz Luhrmann retelling, the characters have to talk like modern-day people. And the romantic dialogue between Kyle and Lindy is not always believable. Granted, they read a lot of Victorian, flowery books together, so they might have just absorbed the dramatic language, but it feels like an older fairy tale manuscript is rearing its head, taking you out for a moment. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but you can’t really imagine modern teenagers saying some of these things.

As per many Beauty and the Beast tellings, Kyle is given a magic mirror to see the outside world through. He first gets to know Lindy by seeing her through this mirror, which…I see why the mirror is there, but it’s tricky not making this literary device borderline creepy. I mean, yes, it’s been a long time since Kyle has been in physical contact with a girl and he cannot exactly show his face in public, so…at least Kyle’s intentions about never wanting to hurt Lindy are made very clear. Maybe any boy watching a girl sleep, or watching a girl in any capacity, is giving me Twilight flashbacks…

There are also these chat room interludes where Kyle talks with other cursed people, like a frog who wants a princess’s kiss, a bear who wants revenge on a dwarf, and even a mermaid who wants to be human—any of these sound familiar? The chat room concept is a little dated, but it does show other people in Kyle’s shoes—that there are other fairy tales happening at the same time as his—but in the overall picture, they don’t do much. I don’t hate them, but I do think the book could have possibly gone without them.

While sometimes your suspension of disbelief has to be stretched very thin, Beastly still works as a modern fairy tale. It has enough of a Gothic touch to indulge one’s inner darkness, but is romantic enough to be sweetly comforting.

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