Thursday, September 20, 2012
Belles by Jen Calonita
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Fifteen-year-old Isabelle Scott loves her life by the boardwalk on the supposed wrong side of the tracks in North Carolina. But when tragedy strikes, a social worker sends her to live with a long-lost uncle and his preppy privileged family. Isabelle is taken away from everything she's ever known, and, unfortunately, inserting her into the glamorous lifestyle of Emerald Cove doesn't go so well. Her cousin Mirabelle Monroe isn't thrilled to share her life with an outsider, and, in addition to dealing with all the rumors and backstabbing that lurk beneath their classmates' Southern charm, a secret is unfolding that will change both girls' lives forever. (courtesy of Goodreads)
Jen Calonita is a master of light contemporary girl-centered novels. I fell in love with her Secrets of My Hollywood Life series and have since read every single one of her books. What do I mean by girl centered? Her stories feature girls in various - often unusual - life situations, who are dealing with the same problems as every teenage girl. Family drama, peer pressure, friends, forming a self-identity, boys. Romance is present in each book, but the heart of the stories is always the girls themselves. Jen's books are always fun to read and I finish them feeling satisfied.
Belles is the first edition in a new series. It is the classic tale of poor girl being taken in by rich family and the drama that ensues (this is a very loose interpretation of the plot, but you get the basic idea). The highlights of Belles are (1) Izzy and Mirabelle and (2) the North Carolina setting.
I loved Izzy and Mirabelle. Izzy's sudden arrival into the Monroe household is not welcome news to either Izzy or Mirabelle. They are fundamentally different people being forced to live together. Izzy grew up with her grandmother in a poor neighborhood. She is independent, resourceful, and headstrong. A natural leader. She's the type of girl I really admire. She understandably feels like a fish out of water in ritzy Emerald Cove. Can she fit into her new world without fundamentally changing who she is? Does she want to?
Mirabelle is a weaker girl than Izzy, which is logical since she has always had her family and plenty of money to fall back on. She runs with a popular crowd, but is more of a lady in waiting than a queen bee. As such, she is under constant pressure to perform to the cruel bidding of meannie Savannah. Despite not always being the nicest person, I liked Mirabelle. Her instincts are good, but like many of us she struggles between doing what benefits her socially versus doing what's right. Can Mira grow a backbone?
The setting is fantastic. I've read plenty of YA books set in the South, but not that many where Southern culture feels like its own character. North Carolina is just as interesting a setting as New York City or Los Angeles. Belles is partially set in a beach town. I could almost smell the salt water taffy and ocean air as I was reading about the boardwalk. The rest of the book is set in a wealthy town. Reading about private school, country club Southern belles and gentleman was like traveling back to a different era of a slower lifestyle and rigid formality. I felt like I should be wearing a dress and white gloves.
The plot of Belles was not overly surprising, but I didn't expect it to be. I was perfectly happy reading about Izzy and Mira's personal challenges and moral dilemmas and their steps in the right direction. Belles hasn't fully captured my love for Secrets of My Hollywood Life yet, but it is by far Jen's best non-SOMHL book yet. I can't wait to read the next installment!