I am a beast. A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog, but a horrible new creature who walks upright – a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever – ruined – unless I can break the spell.
Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and a perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly beastly.
No doubt the movie will get a lot of kudos and girls swooning at the feet of Alex Pettyfer as the Beast in Beastly but really, everyone should read the book before the time. I didn't realise it was being made into a movie so when my copy arrived from Amazon with the red sticker on the cover I thought: dammit! I'll be forced to become pedantic about this now...and I suspect I will, as I watched the trailer after reading Beastly and the differences appear to be HUGE.
But, I'm not here to talk to you about the movie. No. I'm here to sell you guys on going out and buying Beastly because it is a fantastic book that I fell in love with. Had the Endicott Studio of Mythic Arts still been going, Alex Flinn would have been asked to join.
Beastly is a modern reworking of the old story Beauty and the Beast and it is indeed a magical piece of fiction. It works because Flinn manages to capture Kyle, our main character's voice very well. We start off with a headful of bombast and posturing by Kyle. He's hot, he knows it. He likes the fact that everyone worships him for his looks, his money and the fact that he's probably the hottest thing in school. The teachers love him, the girls all want to date him, the boys love to hate him. He plays a role, it's a facade, but one he strongly believes in.
But even so, with all this arrogance, there is a note in Kyle's voice that shows subtle insecurities about himself, his relationships with his friends and his dad. It takes Kendra, a goth girl, to jerk him out of his self-satisfaction and self-love. He doesn't like that he's made to think about the way he acts towards those less fortunate-looking than him. So he decides to pay Kendra back by pretending to ask her out to the school dance. Of course, things pan out that he laughs at her in the presence of all his friends at the dance, belittling her. Kendra walks away and Kyle spins off to enjoy the night with his girlfriend of the moment and his friends, pushing Kendra from his mind. But it's when he gets home that he finds her in his apartment he shares with his dad that the alarm bell rings. And when Kendra says: "You will know what it is like not to be beautiful, to be as ugly on the outside as on the inside. If you learn your lesson well, you may be able to undo my spell, if not, you will live with your punishment forever." Kyle realises he's more than just a bit screwed over, especially when he starts changing into a monster, a freak, right there and then. He grows fur and claws, sharp teeth. And he stays human sized. Not a good situation.
Kyle's dad who is utterly obsessed with appearance naturally goes ballistic when he discovers the state his son is in. Kyle gets dragged to a range of doctors and specialists, none of whom can help them/him. Fed up, Kyle's dad eventually moves Kyle and their housekeeper Magda into a large house in Brooklyn, effectively shutting his embarrassment of a son away from the world. He sends a blind tutor to help Kyle work through the remainder of the school year and refuses further contact.
Beastly is not a large book and yet we run the gamut of emotions with Kyle. His feelings of anger, betrayal, shock and sadness. We watch his tentative overtures to make friends with Will. It's interesting because Will obviously doesn't know what Kyle looks like and initially thinks its a costume he's wearing but then slowly the enormity of the whole situation sinks in. Will - to his credit - remains as Kyle's tutor and has very little sympathy with his charge, really working him hard and making sure that he's ahead of the curve when it comes to school work. Kyle did well at school in the past but he never applied himself. Now all he had was time. So he read, a lot and he has deep conversations with Will. Slowly Kyle comes to realise he is changing.
Kyle undergoes a huge character transformation throughout the novel. He becomes human, a sweet guy, someone who thinks and strives to understand his friends, Magda and Will. He also comes to realise that he is lonely, more lonely than he's ever been in his life, living with an almost always absent and selfish parent. If he's ever to change back into a human boy, he will have to find someone to love him for what he is, not on the outside but on the inside. A very tricky problem.
As the story develops and Kyle finds Lindy, a girl he knows from school, he starts watching her with the aid of magic mirror Kendra had left behind. Lindy's life is tough - she lives in something barely better than a squat and her father is a drug addict. Kyle watches with empathy as Lindy takes care of her father when he needs her, all the while studying, making sure she has a way out, by using her brains.
And then one night, someone breaks into the garden at the back of the house Kyle inhabits. It's Lindy's father and he is so terrified by Kyle's physical appearance that he promises him anything, everything, even his daughter. Kyle hesitates, here's a way to be near Lindy, a girl he would never have looked at twice in the past. Yet she intrigues him. Kyle agrees to the deal: Lindy for the drugs he took away from her dad.
I was so bitterly shocked and nauseated by this part of the book. It really jarred me and I almost gave up reading because what Kyle was doing was so very wrong. Forcing a young girl to come and live with him in a massive house, away from everything she knows - it's just wrong.
But I stuck with it and saw how careful Flinn was with this part, making sure we understood Kyle's motivations and burgeoning obsession. In fact, it's beautifully written and not at all gross. Lindy takes some time to calm down - yay! a spirited female character who is not won over by shiny things - and come to realise the unique position she's in.
Beastly sticks very close to the overall story-lines for Beauty and the Beast but the author makes it modern in this very fresh take, telling the story from Beast's point of view, making us like him for the deeply thoughtful and sweet character he really is. Gone is the brattish behaviour and obsession with good looks, with image, about superficial gloss and indeed, we find a character who has grown thoughtful and careful in his ways with others, who actually thinks of others and is not self-obsessed.
Truly a book about transformation. And one that is very well written. I cannot recommend it enough. I am sure that other readers who are way more au fait with the variants of the fairy tale will have their own bits to add to this review but personally, it was pure escapism and sniffling into a hanky for me.
Find the author Alex Flinn's website here.