Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt & CO (BYR)
Reading Level: Middle Grade
Pages: 200 (ARC)
Source: Gifted from Ashlea
Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.
When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.
Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.
It's very hard to describe this book. It's creepy and dark and super atmospheric due to the beautiful writing and use of metaphors, which are all things that I enjoy, but it was also lacking slightly and I can't exactly pinpoint where I think the story is lacking.
This is a BEAUTY AND THE BEAST retelling, but it also seems like it has elements of a reimagining. See, the beast is actually the female protagonist who is barely thirteen years old and it does create a different lore for the beast and such. Sarah's family was cursed two generations prior by a jealous girl who was extracting revenge on a vain individual. Whenever true love blossomed between the cursed and their loved one, they would be transformed into a beast and all of their offspring would suffer the same fate.
So, when Sarah's mother leaves her father at the very beginning of the book, he takes her to live with her grandparents so that she doesn't witness what he is becoming because her parents chose to raise her blind to magic and curses. However, when he drops her in an old run-down castle in the middle of a magic forest where her Grandmother has magical powers, her Grandfather is a beast, and their only servant is a white raven (yup, you read that correctly) that actually speaks, Sarah realizes magic is real and sets out to defeat the curse before it effects her when she falls in love for the first time. Obviously, it's very easy to like Sarah because she is independent and determined, though also slightly foolish.
The writing in this book and the tale itself is superb. Definitely a re-imagining worth reading. But this book is a mere 200 pages, and it took me hours to finish it because it reads so...slowly. The second half is significantly faster paced than the first, but the pacing is definitely off. And while the story is intriguing and will strike any fantasy reader's curiosity, it is lacking. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where it is lacking, but I would say detail. While Hellisen has the little details down to make her writing beautiful and deliciously dark, it's the grand scheme of things that has no explanation and detail. I almost feel like I read the bones of a story and there's more to tell. I turned the last page feeling like the book was complete, but also wanting more because the tale itself felt incomplete--and not in the way where a sequel is necessary, in the way where more detail is necessary.
All in all, I would say this is a small story worth checking out because it is so unique and the plot twists are actually nuts, but the overall story arc is lacking, in my opinion. Its darkness will appeal to gritty readers like myself and it definitely brings something new to the table for devoted fairytale retelling readers as well. The originality found in the tale is impressive, but I feel as if the tale is perhaps incomplete. It's disappointing to say that I didn't love it, but I recognize the fact that this story did satisfy me to some degree.
Perfect for those looking for a quick, dark read that like fantasy and seemingly complex words and not a lot of detail. In other words, the perfect kind of book to get you out of a reading funk.