Book reviews (January – February 2009)
L.A. Youth writers recommend Beastly (a modern spin on Beauty and the Beast) and I Am Not Esther.
By Alex Flinn
Reviewed by Destiny Jackson, 15, Mayfair HS (Lakewood)
If you love fairy tales and romance as much as I do, then Beastly is most definitely the book for you. Alex Flinn invites us into a modern and edgier version of Beauty and the Beast. I really liked that the book took place in modern times because it was easy to relate to everything going on.
Sixteen-year-old Kyle Kingsbury attends a wealthy New York City private school. He is gorgeous and popular. Kyle invites an ugly goth girl to the Spring Dance, without (of course) planning on going with her. He blabs to the school that it’s a prank. During the vote for Spring Dance court, Kyle wins but then the goth student calls him shallow and embarrasses him in front of the whole class. He’s upset the girl who is actually … a witch!
The witch curses him by turning him into a beast and giving him two years to find his true love, or the spell can never be broken. Kyle doesn’t realize that all his money and popularity won’t fix the unnatural amount of hair that covers his body, his long claws or his uncontrollable growls. Kyle is desperate to find a true love to break the spell after his girlfriend dumps him, since her kiss didn’t work. Kyle even tries to find love on MySpace. I really enjoyed this because it was the first book I’ve read that mentions the website. I was really hoping for him to find love.
However, after meaningless searching on MySpace and in nightclubs he learns that his selfish and money-grubbing ways aren’t attractive. Slowly he tries to become nicer, even planting a flower garden (drastic measures!). The beast’s transformation from spoiled to humble really made me like this book. It came early, allowing the book to focus on the rest of his personality traits like his awkwardness talking to girls. But I think the best part is that this isn’t some classic story where furniture talks or a happy-go-lucky fairy tale. It gets a little dark when dealing with the abuse of a major character and a minor character’s drug habit.
I couldn’t put the book down. I was interested in the characters, actual teens like me dealing with everyday school life like getting teased or being judged by their appearance. I could put myself in their shoes. Even though the message of “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” is familiar, the story is fresh and exciting—very 21st century.
BOOK: I Am Not Esther
By Fleur Beale
Reviewed by Sally Choi, 15, The Linden Center
I Am Not Esther by Fleur Beale was a page-turner. The book is about a 14-year-old girl named Kirby, who is forced to live in a cult and struggles to find her mom. It was exciting to read about her acting against the cult. I wanted to know what would happen next.
The book begins with her finding out that her mom, who is a nurse, is being sent to Africa to help the needy. She leaves Kirby with family members she has never heard of. When her uncle and cousin arrive to take her, Kirby throws a tantrum by crying, cussing and throwing things. But despite the scene, her family doesn’t say anything. They seem understanding so she goes with them.
When she gets to their community she realizes she’s part of a strict religious cult called Children of the Faith. The cult leaders change Kirby’s name to a biblical name, Esther. While she’s showering they take away all her clothes and replace them with a long white skirt, plain white shoes and a modest blouse.
She doesn’t follow the rules so the cult always finds a way of punishing her. One time she takes the kitchen scissors and chops off her hair because she was forced to have it neatly braided at all times. Her uncle and aunt are shocked. They place her in a room and lock the door, forcing her to memorize verses from the Bible.
I was frustrated that they forced her to change her beliefs. They took away everything that was her, like her clothing, slang, manners and appearance.
After a while she adjusts to the rules and becomes attached to her 5-year-old cousin Magdalene and her teenage cousin, Daniel. She starts liking the cult. She has to decide who she is. Is she Esther or Kirby?
I could relate to her confusion because I live in a group home, which is a house where I live with five other girls and adult staff. At my group home you have to follow rules but there are things I don’t agree with. It’s the same with Kirby—she doesn’t agree with the rules so she wants to resist.
Toward the end of the book it got really suspenseful. I wanted to find out if Kirby would escape the cult and find her mom. I also liked learning about the cult because it was different.
This book tells you to fight for what you believe in, even if things aren’t going your way. I totally recommend this book.