Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret StohlDecember 1, 2009; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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. (courtesy of Goodreads)
I read Beautiful Creatures a year and a half ago and adored it. In anticipation of the release of Beautiful Chaos, the third book in the Caster Chronicles series, I'm re-reading the first two books. Beautiful Creatures was not only as good the second time around, but I loved it even more. The story has everything that I consider essential in a good book: a likable narrator, heart-stopping romance, well-developed secondary characters, strong villains, a complex yet understandable paranormal element, and a good balance between character development and plotting. It is a mixture southern traditions: charm, history, and Gothic storytelling.
A highlight of the series is Ethan, our narrator and main character. It is always refreshing to have a male narrator and Ethan is particularly pleasant. He is smart, sensitive, and thoughtful. While he is extremely passionate about those he cares about, he manages to hold to his beliefs during times of turmoil without the inner angst of a typical female narrator.
Lena is Ethan's opposite in many ways. Angst to the extreme. And who wouldn't be if they thought they were cursed? Lena is a Caster - a witch. In her family, Casters turn light or dark at the age of 16. They have no choice in the matter. Lena is terrified that she will turn dark and is counting the days down to her sixteenth birthday like a prisoner ticking off days leading to his execution. Lena is an eternal pessimist. She is an emo poet. On the surface, she seems insufferably sullen. But the reader can't help but empathize with her fears and love Lena for her underlying kindness and intelligence. I loved that she had an edge - whether dark or light - she had the gall to get some revenge on those who wrong her.
My favorite part of Beautiful Creatures is the strongly developed parental figures. Both Ethan and Lena are your stereotypical orphans. Lena's parents died when she was young. Ethan's mother died last year and his father is so distraught that he might as well be dead. Ethan is essentially raised by his housekeeper Amma and Lena is raised by her uncle Macon. Both Amma and Macon play crucial roles in the story. I adored Amma's fierce love for "her boy," her crossword hobby, her cooking talent, and her role as intercessor between the Spirits, the Casters, and Mortals . I became extremely attached to Macon as I came to understand his particular mixture of elegance, arrogance, strength, and love for Lena. Amma and Macon serve as foils for Ethan and Lena as they strive to keep them apart and hinder their attempts to learn more about the Caster curse. Their actions are frustrating but the reader can tell they are done out of love.
Beautiful Creatures is a long book - 563 pages. I thought the plot flowed smoothly and rarely dragged. However, some reviews disagree. The book admittedly covers a lot of material. Here are the various major plot points of the novel: Ethan and Lena's romance, Ethan's family problems, Lena's family dynamics, the Civil War element of the Duchannes Caster curse, the "witch-hunt" Lena faces from the cruel, ignorant students and townspeople, Lena's struggle between dark and light, Ethan's friendship with Link, the explanation of what a Caster is, and more. Clearly, this is not a simple book. The story was a little easier to comprehend the second time around, but I remember being nearly as captivated on the first read.
I highly recommend Beautiful Creatures. It's one of the best paranormal romance series I've read. Ethan and Lena are two of the most endearing YA characters, the side characters are very strongly written, and the world of the Casters is absolutely fascinating. While the story is long and not overly speedy, if you're willing to be patient and take the time to absorb the myriad of things going on in Beautiful Creatures, it is a rich and satisfying book.