2009, Young Adult
HarperTeen, $8.99, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061998664
Beauty and the Beast is a very old tale. The roots of the story go back to the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, and it has furnished the plot for many romance novels - Ravished by Amanda Quick and Mary Jo Putney's short story, The Black Beast of Belleterre are two of my favorites. Beastly is a young adult novel that follows the classic tale fairly closely. It's set in contemporary New York and we see the story from the Beast's point of view.
Kyle Kingsbury is a golden god. Just ask him. He goes to an exclusive private school, he dates the hottest chick there, and his newscaster father showers him with every material possession he could want. Kyle is gorgeous on the outside, but inside he is a very ugly young man. When he plays a nasty prank on Kendra, a goth girl, she reveals herself as a witch. Kendra casts a spell that turns Kyle into a beast with fur, fangs and claws (see Jean Cocteauís movie La Belle et La Bete to see how the author envisioned him Ė itís not at all like how he is in the movie). Kendra informs Kyle that because of a single act of kindness he performed for a young woman at school, he has two years to make someone love him before he is stuck in beast form forever.
At first Kyle is shattered. Having always judged himself (and others) only by their outward appearance, he doesnít know what to do with himself. His father, who is as shallow as Kyle, buys him a brownstone in Brooklyn, hires a blind tutor and a housekeeper then leaves them alone. Slowly, Kyle adjusts. He forges a friendship with his tutor and the housekeeper Ė a real friendship. Kyle begins to read. He discovers he enjoys learning and his long dormant sense of empathy begins to manifest itself. Finally he is ready to meet his Beauty - Linda, a scholarship student at this old school. Linda is a kind and intelligent young woman, but she isnít pretty at all, at least not on the outside. The old Kyle would have either ignored or bullied her, but Kyle is no longer the cruel young man he once was.
I've read and watched many variations of Beauty and the Beast. This is the first time Iíve read a version of the story that tells it in first person through the eyes of the Beast and I found myself totally engrossed. Since Kyle is the one who undergoes such a sea change, it was interesting to see though his eyes, how he slowly changed from the beastly boy he was, to the warm and loving young man he becomes. His relationship with Linda is a courtly and rather chivalrous one. When he was in school, he had mindless sex with whatever girl was the current hottie, but he treats Linda with love and respect.
Beastly is interspersed with transcripts of chat sessions from the Unexpected Changes on-line support group. Here, Kyle interacts with a Frog Prince and a Little Mermaid, all of whom have their own problems to deal with. Itís an intriguing idea and it helps to show Kyleís growth and change. He begins the chats as a real jerk, but slowly begins to empathize with his fellow sufferers. They, as well as Linda help humanize him.
Iím a total pushover for a Beauty and the Beast tale and I think this is one of the best ones I've read. Itís deeply romantic and very touching. Also, it is one of the few romantic stories Iíve read that is told from the male point of view. That alone was worth the read.
-- Ellen Micheletti
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