“Beautiful Creatures”: Smart, Southern, and Supernatural Gothic

I just finished reading Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. I flew through it in less than 2 days and thought it was a great read. Read below to see my thoughts on the book.

Beautiful Creatures Book Cover

2012 was a rough year for reading for me. My last semester of graduate school was tough. Finishing my classes, writing my thesis, and thinking about what to do with the rest of my life took up most of my time and most of my ability to think. Summer turned out to not be too good for reading either. I was busy for the first part of the summer, my grandfather became ill, and then I was applying for jobs. The Fall continued on with the job search and I felt guilty about reading when I could have been filling out applications.

But, then in early December, my grandfather died. While he was ill, his death was surprising because it came rapidly and with little warning. Pain gives you new perspective. It teaches you.

Books do the same thing. The stories of others help make the events in your own story make sense. They bring catharsis. So, I resolved to not feel guilty about devoting some of my time to reading. I’ve read 2 books so far this week, 4 since the 1st of the month. So, expect me to talk about books a little more on here in the future. 🙂

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But, back to Beautiful Creatures.

Published in 2009, Beautiful Creatures is technically a Young Adult novel for readers ages 12 and up. It is a Southern, Gothic Romance with a storyline deeply rooted in the supernatural. The novel draws heavily on themes of magic and fate. It is 563 pages.

Authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl wrote the novel after being dared to by some of the teenagers in their lives. Garcia and Stohl came up with the idea for Beautiful Creatures over lunch and wrote initial passages on napkins. They wrote the book in serial form at first, feeding pages at a time to these same teens who became increasingly impatient to read more of the story. Three months later, the first draft was complete and after some editing Beautiful Creatures is an international bestseller, the first book in a four-part series (The Caster Chronicles), and soon to be a major motion picture.

This is the book cover for the movie-tie-in.

This is the book cover for the movie-tie-in.

A General, Spoiler-free Summary:

Beautiful Creatures is told from the perspective of Ethan Lawson Wate, a 16-year old high school sophomore living in fictional Gatlin, South Carolina in the present day. At the beginning of the book, Ethan is still reeling from the death of his mother Lila several months before in a car accident and is unsure how to react from his father Mitchell’s depressed behavior. Virtually ignored by his devastated father, who sleeps all day and locks himself in his study all night, Ethan relies on the love, support, and care of housekeeper Amma who is like his grandmother.

Raised to be open minded by his liberal professor/writer parents, Ethan feels out of place in Gatlin, a small Southern town deeply rooted in its history and in its conservative values, and he cannot wait until he can leave after high school graduation. A member of the Jackson High School basketball team and a relatively popular kid in his class, Ethan spends most days with his best friend Wesley “Link” Lincoln. However, as summer ends and his sophomore year begins, something is different. Since his mother’s death, Ethan has been plagued by strange dreams, and now he begins to experience strange occurrences and hear strange music. The dreams, which feature a girl Ethan does not know but who seems to know him, seem real — virtually are real — as Ethan wakes up with dirt under his fingernails and mud in his bed.

When Ethan passes a strange car on the road on the first day of school, he feels inexplicably drawn to it, but doesn’t know why. The car’s occupant is Lena Duchannes, niece of Gatlin’s shut-in, Macon Ravenwood. Like her uncle, Lena is “different” than everyone else in Gatlin and she is ridiculed for it by her new classmates. Ethan, however, is drawn to Lena in a way he can’t explain. She is the girl in his dreams, her scent of lemon and rosemary is what he smells as he sleeps, and the music she plays on her viola is the song that mysteriously appears on his iPod.

Ethan becomes Lena’s friend as the rest of Gatlin’s students and residents shun her for her “otherness” and for odd occurrences that begin to happen at Jackson High. Ethan and Lena’s friendship continues to deepen even as her Uncle Macon and his Amma protest the acquaintance. As Ethan seeks to understand his connection to Lena and their relationship develops, Ethan learns that Lena is a Caster. Along with the rest of her family and others like them, she has magical powers. But unlike the others like her family, the Duchannes are cursed — destined to be Claimed on their 16th birthday for either good or evil, for Light or Dark. In a race against time and in a struggle against disapproval, Ethan and Lena rush to learn the meaning of their supernatural connection and to prevent Lena from Turning Dark on her birthday.

In the process, Ethan and Lena learn that all in their lives are not as they seem. That the connection they share goes back over a century to the roots of Gatlin. That Lena’s life has been dominated by secrets. That they may be powerless to do anything.

Ethan and Lena, as depicted in the upcoming Beautiful Creatures film.

Ethan and Lena, as depicted in the upcoming Beautiful Creatures film.

My Take:

I really enjoyed Beautiful Creatures.  Out of 5 stars, I’d give it a 4. For me it was a fast read — I read it on my Nook over the course of about 2 days. At times, the novel was a little slow and lumbering — not because the story was bad, but because there is a lot of description. With this in mind though, I couldn’t wait to keep reading — the plot kept me thoroughly entertained and thoroughly interested. I desperately wanted to know what happened next, to discover the answers to the story’s mysteries.

I also really liked Beautiful Creatures because I found it to be smart, nuanced, and funny. While some may not agree, I found its commentary on small town life and on the narrow mindedness that sometimes infects those towns (or communities or big cities too) funny and true. You’ll have to read to understand, but for someone like myself who is a more liberal persuasion, authors Garcia and Stohl point out important and blind prejudices that many of us have towards who and what may be different in our worlds.

I also enjoyed the story because of its supernatural themes. While I don’t out rightly believe that magic exists (but, who wouldn’t want Harry Potter to be real??), I appreciate the novel’s perception of supernatural connections and fate. I also found the fact that the novel is told from Ethan’s perspective and not from Lena’s to be refreshing.

Some have placed Beautiful Creatures and the three subsequent books in The Caster Chronicles series in the same category as Harry Potter and Twilight. For someone who reveres the ground that the Harry Potter series sits on, I can honestly say that Beautiful Creatures is not as good as Harry Potter. However, I feel that it is, without question, better than the Twilight series.

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A Note About the Movie:

Beautiful Creatures has been made into a motion picture and premieres on February 13, 2013. It is being marketed as a Romeo and Juliet type story and some changes have been made to the plot and to the characters. This being said, however, authors Garcia and Stohl were heavily involved in the project and I think the film’s trailer looks great!

 

The entire Caster Chronicles — Beautiful Creatures, Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Chaos, and Beautiful Redemption — series has been published.  The fourth and final book, Beautiful Redemption, was published in October 2012.

Happy Reading! Let me know what you think of Beautiful Creatures.

Nothing on TV, you say? Turn on PBS! – Part 1

Note: This post is an addendum to both Jeannette and Abbie’s posts from last week about this Fall’s TV schedule and the Emmy Awards.

There are 2 parts to this post, because there’s simply too much to talk about!

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What do you think when you hear the phrase PBS?

I know, I know. Some of you are groaning right now, saying “Please don’t write a blog post about that boring channel Joni!”

Don’t worry, I would never purposely bore you. That’s why I’m going to tell you why PBS isn’t boring, and why you shouldn’t only think of it as the channel that broadcasts Sesame Street.

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Do you like Drama? Maybe some Romance? Mystery? Murder? Political Thrillers?

Then Sundays at 9pm should be your night and Masterpiece (previously Masterpiece Theater) should be your show!

Masterpiece is divided into three sections: Classic, Mystery, and Contemporary. Masterpiece Classic is broadcast from January through April, Masterpiece Mystery is broadcast in the summer and fall, usually through October, and Masterpiece Contemporary is broadcast in the late fall through December. So, basically, there’s something to watch almost all year-long!

By far, the best program from Masterpiece this past year was Downton Abbey. In fact, if ratings and the Emmy Awards had anything to say about it, it may be the best program in the history of Masterpiece. Broadcast over four weeks in January of 2011, Downton had already been broadcast in the UK (where it was filmed and produced) in the Fall of 2010 to rave reviews.

Downton follows the Crawley family at their home Downton Abbey. The Earl and Countess have 3 daughters, and no sons, so when the Earl’s cousin who is set to inherit the estate and the Earldom dies on the Titanic, chaos ensues. The series explores how the lives and world of the Crawley family and their household staff changes as the new heir descends on the Abbey. A mysterious servant arrives, a maid is keeping a secret, the Countess and her mother-in-law are conspiring against the Earl, a Turkish diplomat dies in a compromising position, and world war looms on the horizon.

Downton’s popularity earned it multiple Emmy Awards last week and has been renewed for 2 more seasons. New episodes air in January.

Other Masterpiece Classic programs to check out:Upstairs Downstairs, Any Human Heart, and South Ridingall broadcast in Spring 2011.

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If you like murder mysteries, then it is “elementary” that you tune in to Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are back and better than ever, but this time they’re solving murders in present-day London. Three episodes were broadcast as part of last year’s Masterpiece Mystery season, and more are coming in the future. I highly suggest you check this out!

Masterpiece Mystery is rife with programs, many based on the mysteries of Agatha Christie – Poirot and Miss Marple. But, also check out the Inspector Lewis, Zenand the forthcomingCase Histories.

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Finally, Masterpiece Contemporary rounds out the Masterpiece line-up. Although it features far fewer programs than its counterparts, watching Masterpiece Contemporary is a great way to wile away cold, winter Sunday nights. Check out:

God on Trial –  Broadcast in the Fall/Winter of 2008, this 90-minute production follows a group of Jewish concentration camp prisoners as they place God on trial in absentia for his abandonment of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. This brilliant and profound drama depicts the simultaneous faith and loss Holocaust victims experienced during their horrific imprisonment.

The Last Enemy – Does Big Brother, like George Orwell depicted in 1984, really exist? What if it did? After spending years in China, obsessive-compulsive genius Stephen Ezard comes home to Britain for his brother’s funeral. But not all is as it seems. Mystery and danger abounds as Stephen is roped in to becoming the spokesman for the new government Total Information Awareness program that tracks every citizens every movement. It is supposed to protect you, but is a world where nothing is private and you cannot ever disappear protecting or controlling you?

This Fall, check out Page Eight about a veteran British spy who stumbles across a conspiracy that may destroy the British government. He’ll have to figure out what to do about it though, before he falls victim to it himself.

Also, look for the 50-minute long Song of Lunch starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson as former lovers who meet for lunch 15 years after their relationship ended. The production is based on the poem of the same name by Christopher Reid.

Next time, I’ll talk about some of the other programs you can see on PBS.

For now, turn on your local PBS Station – you may be surprised by what you find!