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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Of Beast and Beauty* by Stacey Jay- young adult book review  
Of Beast and Beauty
by Stacey Jay
Ages 14+ 400 pages Ember December 2014 Paperback    

This is one of those books that readers will either love or hate. There is no middle ground. For readers who aren't familiar with dystopian fiction and Beauty and the Beast, it might seem like an original mashup, but this novel is really very predictable on so many levels that--for readers familiar with the various tropes the book covers--it’s difficult to find originality.

Lovers of fantasy might find lacking because the worldbuilding (especially of the world outside the domed city) is lacking. Why use Asian names if Asian culture won’t be part of the worldbuilding? And there are quite a few plot holes. But this is a YA book, and it does speak to young adult issues.

The main characters of this Beauty and the Beast retelling are Isra (Beauty) and Gem (Monster or the Beast figure). Isra is of course beautiful but--as often occurs with special snowflakes fated to save the world--she doesn’t know it. She is not just beautiful, she is ultra-beautiful. But she is blind to that aspect of herself. Literally. She is blind. (This is very hard to believe at times because she doesn’t really behave or “see” as blind people see.) She is also somewhat prone to self-pity. She is also tall and pale as snow and--of course--this pale-as-snow heroine will save the darker, shorter folks of their world.

Gem is scaly and an outcast but handsome in his own way. He is kind and noble, and both exist in a world where normal people are generally beautiful and the ugly people--the Monstrous--are the freaks.

Isra is a blind princess, and Gem is her prisoner. Isra is supposed to be sacrificed to save her people. Gem is also trying to save his people, who are the second-class oppressed Monsters. Their love (of course) will break the curse on their world, if Isra can shed the wrong beliefs she was indoctrinated with--about beauty, appearances, and the reflection of the soul--and choose the right or duty.

This book has many annoying tropes; the worst of them is its depiction of the classic noble savages. The savages one finds in this book are not savages one would see in any anthropology book. They are the ones found in screeds against theological or cultural imperialism. There is also the overdone religious notion of myth, superstition, a misunderstood nurturing all-accepting God who looks on with maternal pity at the false construct being placed on spirituality. There are a lot of heavy philosophical words, which makes the book a bit boring because the words aren’t really saying anything. The language can be dense and overly aware of its prettiness, which often comes off as pretentious. The entire story feels somewhat patronizing--towards the religious, the disabled, the abnormal, the “ugly.”

But again, this is a book made for a younger audience who might be going through the awkward teenage years, where acne, external beauty, the oppression of society and our elders, and the judgment of others are major issues. The love story is a bit unbelievable in its swiftness, but teens will like it. And the romance can be sweet at times. The decision to make everyone beautiful--as the heroine sees it--is a bit questionable. But it is acceptable to the teenage mind. The philosophical mumbo-jumbo pseudo spirituality and the Covenant will also appeal to teenagers as well, although it might bore or offend older readers. Recommended for teenagers.  
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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