Beauty and the Beast is probably my favorite fairy tale of all time. I watched the Disney film over and over as a child, and also enjoyed seeing it performed live in various theatre productions. And yes, I was even a fan of the horribly corny 1980’s television series starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. What really interests me about this tale is the ideas of how a person sees themselves, thinks the world sees them, and how physical transformations can have a psychological and emotional effect on a person. It’s also very intriguing to see the beast character realize that true beauty rarely has anything to do with what something looks like.
Beastly by Alex Flinn is a re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, set in modern day New York City, featuring young adult characters, and told from the Beasts perspective rather than from Beauty’s. This version is very similar to the original, but what makes it really different is the change of time. From the first page this present day setting is apparent, as the story opens with a transcript from an online group chat. These chat transcripts will appear throughout the story and are an awesome detour from the main narrative. The chat group, called Unexpected Changes, is basically an online support group for people/creatures dealing with transformations. It includes characters such as a mermaid who falls in love with a sailor she saved from drowning, a frog living in a pond, and a grizzly bear who likes the ladies. It’s super fun to hear about these others and to see how Beast relates to them.
The main story is basically the same, an arrogant, popular, rich boy named Kyle gets cursed by a witch so that he will be as physically revolting as he acts. The only way to break the curse is for a girl to love him for who he truly is, rather than what he looks like. After becoming a beast, Kyle’s totally revolting father banishes him to a townhouse, where he lives with the family’s maid and a blind tutor. Some time later a man gets caught breaking into Kyle’s estate and trades his daughter Lindy to Kyle in exchange for his own freedom. Like I mentioned very similar to the original, but still unique in it’s presentation.
I found this story to be particularly interesting because of the modern setting and the different perspective it gave. By having it told by the Beast, the reader gets a better sense of how his transformation changes his outlook and his attitude. It is true that he desires his hostage to love him because it means he will revert back to his old self, however you can also get a sense of his realizing that his behavior beforehand was wrong. His father’s rejection and ex-girlfriends disgust at first confuse him, because he knows he is still the same person, but instead all they see is how he looks. This is an important part of his psychological transformation, as he realizes that he only judged according to appearance, never willing to look beyond the plain or the un-extraordinary.
The other thing that makes this story different is the role that the fathers played. Kyle’s father approves of his son because he is handsome, popular and likely to succeed in life. But even as perfect as Kyle was, his father never really seemed to value his son. And he quickly turns his back on Kyle when he becomes beastly, which shows that Kyle’s thinking was something that was reinforced by his father. However, as bad as Kyle’s dad sounds, Lindy’s father was worse. Her dad was a drug addicted lowlife who relied upon his daughter to take care of him, and was more interested in his stash of drugs than his own child’s safety and happiness. Seeing how similar these two fathers were, despite their different lifestyles was interesting and really highlights how bad parenting crosses both economic, and social class circles.
All in all, Beastly was an enjoyable read for me as it contained the traditional story elements of a favorite fairy tale, mixed in more modern elements, while also touching on some tough topics, such as peer pressure in teens and the relationships between parents and children.
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About The Author
Alex Flinn loves fairy tales and made her two daughters sit through several dozen versions of “Beauty and the Beast'” while she wrote this book … then quizzed them on how they thought a beast would meet girls in New York City. She is the author of five previous books, including Breathing Underwater, an ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults; Breaking Point, a 2003 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers; Nothing To Lose, a 2004 ALA Best Book for Young Adults; Fade To Black, a 2006 ALA Best Book for Young Adults nominee; and Diva. She lives in Miami.
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