by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Review by Megan Goodell
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is a timeless fantasy/love story, filled with adventure and sudden twists. Finally, a book where you don’t already know the ending after the first chapter! The story brings the reader right into the historic, Civil War-minded, small town of Gatlin, Virginia, southern accents and all. Here, everything stays the same, and nothing new ever happens.
All narrator and protagonist Ethan Wate wants to do is get out of that town, for reasons exemplified on page 31: “Shawn shook his head. ‘Like pickin’ peaches off the vine.’ ‘Peaches grow on trees.’ I was already annoyed... Shawn looked at me, confused. ‘What are you talkin’ about?’” Everyone in the Gatlin is narrow-minded, and many of them dumb at that. Many of the kids in his school are worse. The town’s claim to fame is that it’s one of the closest towns to the site of a Civil War battle. Most of the adults think that the South only lost the war because it was being more gentlemanly; and was better than the North in that way. An elite church group called the Sisters of the Confederacy exists for those women who could trace their heritage to Confederate soldiers or activists. These are considered to be the worst in Ethan’s opinion. Ethan’s focus changes from leaving Gatlin to something else at the beginning of his sophomore year of high school when he finds that some things in Gatlin actually can be interesting. Instead of learning about the “War of Northern Aggression,” hanging out with his same best friend, Link, listening to Link’s terrible but hopeful band, “Who Shot Lincoln?,” and talking about the two most popular cheerleaders, Savannah and Emily, a new girl moves to town, Lena Duchannes.
Prior to Lena’s arrival, both Ethan and Lena have been having identical dreams about each other, but neither ever thought they would actually meet. Lena is the niece of the town shut-in, Macon Ravenwood. No one has seen him in years, and his mansion on the outskirts of town is the “haunted house” of many people’s childhood, and subject to many dares.
Lena is an outcast almost immediately, just because she is different from everyone else in the school. She is a target for bullying from the mean-girl cheerleaders who are endlessly cruel. Ethan, star of the basketball team, defends her, but he is just as outcast as she is. Soon, the reader find that Lena is much more different than anyone suspected.
Besides the Casters themselves, only two or three people in Gatlin even know that Casters exist. They are families who happen to have powers or abilities that other humans don’t, such as changing things from one object to another with a thought, or mind reading. For centuries, the Duchannes family has been Casters. Each member has a talent or power. There are Light and Dark equivalents for each power, mainly the same abilities, but with some twist for a different intention.
In the world of Casters, Casters are claimed Light or Dark when they turn sixteen. This process is called the Claiming. Dark Casters’ eyes turn golden-yellow, and Light Casters’ eyes turn green at this time. If one is Light, one’s life will continue as before, but with more access and knowledge of their powers. If one is Dark, however, one will forget one’s feelings towards people, even family, and have more access and knowledge of their powers, with evil or dark intentions. Usually, it’s their choice. As if being a Caster isn’t different enough, Lena’s family is different even than other Caster families. Going back over a century, to the time of the Civil War, a curse was put on her family when Genevieve Duchannes, a Caster, tried to save her fiancé, southern soldier Ethan Carter Wate (who Ethan Wate was named after), using a forbidden cast. Ever since then, Lena’s family hasn’t been able to choose to go Light or Dark. Before Lena’s cousin Ridley turned sixteen, she and Lena had been best friends, comforting each other when they were bullied at the schools they went to. Then, Ridley went dark. She was a Siren and could manipulate anyone any way she wanted to and betrayed everyone in her family. Lena had her share of Dark Casters, for her mother was one of the Darkest, most powerful Casters ever to have lived, a Catalyst, even having killed her father.
Lena’s family knows that by the pawers Lena has shown already, she will probably be a Natural (the Light equivalent of a Catalyst), or a Catalyst like her mother. Because of this, almost everything about Casting is kept secret from her so that if she does go Dark, she won’t be very dangerous. This doesn’t help when she and Ethan believe that they can stop the choice from being made for Lena. Another distraction from Ethan and Lena’s quest to find out about Lena’s heritage is that Lena is running out of time. As her sixteenth birthday nears, Lena’s powers become stronger and stronger. Stronger actually, than any other caster other than her mother, Sarafine, who is trying to kill her because of this. Lena can manipulate the weather with a flick of her finger, but sometimes she can’t control it. Often the weather in Gatlin reflects how Lena is feeling, and it’s a good thing it’s hurricane season. Otherwise, with the way people are acting towards her, they might get even more suspicious.
As time runs out, Lena and Ethan find out that she does have a choice, and she must also decide between Ethan and her family. During a reenactment of the Civil War battle Ethan Carter Wate was killed in, Lena must use a forbidden cast to save Ethan from something almost worse: her mother.
Beautiful Creatures is a story of two drastically different high schoolers who fall in love, despite their families’ attempts to keep them apart for their own good. As they struggle through conflicts with their emotions, families, and the fact that Lena is a Caster, they discover what it would be like to have a life opposite of theirs’.
This modern fantasy is so good that I could barely put it down. It keeps the reader wanting to read more all the way through, but still leaves room for an even more exciting climax, and leaves the reader needing to read the sequel. Characters with distinct pasts that you find out about along the way bring the mystery of Lena’s Claiming together, but will they find out in time? To find out what Lena decides and more, read Beautiful Creatures and the sequel, Beautiful Darkness.