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Book review: 'Beautiful Creatures' will delight readers

Published: Sunday, Dec. 13 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

"BEAUTIFUL CREATURES," by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 576 pages, $17.99 (ages 12 and up)

There are some books you know are going to be popular even before opening the cover.

"Beautiful Creatures," a piece of supernatural fiction for young adult readers by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is one such book.

Days before its official publication date, it had already broken into Amazon.com's top 100 best-sellers in books list.

What's impressive about this is that Garcia and Stohl are unknowns. This is their debut novel.

Now Amazon has been plugging it as similar to the Twilight books. "If you like Twilight, then you'll like this," so to speak. And the company has also listed it as its No. 1 Best Book for Teens of 2009 and No. 5 pick on the Editor's Top 100 list.

But that kind of advertising only goes so far. If you want a true representation, look at the customer reviews for "Beautiful Creatures," which at press time averaged 4½ out of 5 stars.

"Beautiful Creatures" features a curse, a girl and a grave, but there's much more to it than that, and it all starts with Ethan Wate.

Ethan has lived in the small Southern town of Gatlin his entire life. Everyone knows everyone there, and nothing ever seems to change. So when a new girl moves into town, she immediately becomes the main topic of conversation — but not for all the right reasons.

It turns out the new girl is Lena Duchannes, the niece of Gatlin's version of the reclusive Boo Radley from "To Kill a Mockingbird." And if that weren't bad enough, Lena doesn't fit the standard high school mold of cheerleader wannabe. Instead, she's a swirl of dark hair and dark clothes that make her stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Ethan knows if he wants to make it through high school, he should ignore Lena, but he can't. She's beautiful and mysterious and, most importantly, she's the girl from Ethan's dreams — hyper-realistic dreams he's been having since before Lena moved to Gatlin.

Ethan throws caution to the wind, and soon he and Lena are inseparable, and they're also in for the fight of their young lives.

There's a secret curse that has haunted Lena's family for generations and on Lena's 16th birthday, it will take her, too, or so legend says.

But Ethan is unwilling to accept that fate and will do anything to find answers before the curse takes hold.

"Beautiful Creatures" is told from Ethan's point of view — a bold but brilliant choice for a book geared toward teenage girls. And it's just one of many decisions by the authors that makes this book stand out among what many refer to as "Twilight clones."

In "Beautiful Creatures," Garcia and Stohl are a united voice. They have created a truly cohesive novel that doesn't read as if there are two authors. The tone throughout is even and strong, as is the pacing and character development.

Beyond that, the pair has done an amazing job setting the scene. Though they both live in Los Angeles, they have captured the distinct feel of the South from language and mannerisms right on down to the food, color and smell. The atmosphere is so well set up, the reader truly feels she is in Gatlin.

Even if it weren't being billed as the first book in The Caster Chronicle series, it's clear by the end of "Beautiful Creatures" there is more to come. At this point, it seems likely it will become a trilogy, but with Garcia and Stohl's storytelling abilities and imaginations, a longer series is not out of the question.

Without giving too much away, it is safe to say that "Beautiful Creatures" does feature magical and supernatural elements similar to other books in this genre. Though it should be noted, the series thus far is less violent and features fewer fantastical moments than the Harry Potter and Twilight and Gemma Doyle series.

At 576 pages, "Beautiful Creatures" is a page-turner that will keep readers up until the wee hours of the morning. It's fun, dynamic and fast, while still maintaining Southern charm.

Kudos to Garcia and Stohl for stepping out of the box and offering readers something new to sink their teeth into.

e-mail: jharrison@desnews.com

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