Sunday, July 15, 2012

REVIEW: The Year of the Beasts

Castellucci, C. & Powell, N.  (2012).  The Year of the Beasts.  New York:  Roaring Brook Press.

175 pages.

Appetizer:  One weekend each June, the carnival comes to town.  For the first time, Tessa's parents have decided she's old enough to go alone with her best friend Celina.  Aaaand Tessa's eighth grader little sister, Lulu.  Tessa was hoping to spend her night of freedom getting closer to her crush, Charlie Evans, but it looks like Lulu may be the one who gets that honor.

Lulu's budding relationship with Charlie drives a wedge between the sisters, but Tessa finds a new love interest with an outsider named Jasper.

Intermixed with the contemporary realistic novel-like narrative of Tessa and Lulu's jealousies and difficulties is a graphic novel of a young Medusa trying her very best to live a normal life despite turning everyone she sees to stone.  Feeling like an outsider, she must learn how to return to being a normal girl and whether that is possible and what she truly wants.

In the style of American Born Chinese, these two narratives are collide together near the end of the book in a way that is, ahem, freaking awesome--excuse my French.  (Seriously, I was feeling "meh," about the entire book when it suddenly took a dark and tragic turn and some serious issues were presented and *bam* the narratives collided and it was glorious.)

Now, in terms of my reactions before I got to that awesome collision of narratives:  While at first I was very entertained by the idea of a novel and graphic novel combined, I found that I wasn't that engaged with the traditional novel.  I wasn't crazy about the writing.  I thought the sentence structure needed to be more varied and needed to focus more on showing instead of telling.  There was also a bit too much repetition...and it didn't strike me as being a stylistic choice.  Take this for example:
"Tessa tried to look as though she was thinking of other things.  She tried to look casual.  She laughed a little too loudly when Charlie spoke about his riverboat" (p. 11).  She posed.  She brushed her hair back.  She chased the ball.  Run, Tessa.  Run.
Or read through this example:

"She put her arms around her friend and they lay there like they always had since they were little girls.  Celina knew just what she needed.  Just like the old days.  Tessa knew that she could count on Celina no matter what.  Celina was Tessa's best friend.  Celina was on her side.  And best friends always knew when to show up" (p. 113).  I guess they were best friends then.  If only some of these sentences had been cut or combined to be less redundant....
Having now complained extensively, there were still a lot of great lines.  The tensions and jealousies between Lulu and Tessa were compelling.  (As someone who's an only child, it was an interesting window into a different experience.)

I did find the graphic novel story to be more engaging.  I liked the way the girl was depicted as being disconnected and ostracized.  I thought it was a great use of the Medusa figure as a metaphor.

Dinner Conversation:

"They rolled into town in the middle of the day:  large covered wagons and flatbed trucks hauling disassembled rides that looked like futuristic dinosaur bones.  They settled over by the highway, by the river, near the empty muddy brown field and planted themselves.  Two days later, sawdust, lights, and swinging rides that screamed against the sky sprouted." (p. 1.)

"Tessa wondered what kind of sister she would be if she weren't truly happy for Lulu.  Would she be a mean sister, like those in fairytale books they both loved?  When she spoke would only toads and bugs fly out of her mouth?  Would she be condemned to be the true ugly one?  Would her road always be dark and barren?  Would her soul grow more and more twisted?" (p. 30)

"Tessa began kissing Jasper in secret whenever she had the chance, and not one person said that she looked any different.  No one teased her that she was in love.  No one cooed and cawed as though her first love was as cute as a passel of puppies.  No one sighed around her or smiled.  But Tessa felt different.  She was blooming, too.  She could tell it was true when she caught sight of herself in mirrors and windows." (p. 67)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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