“What matters most is what’s on the inside.” I know this saying has been around for several decades already—centuries, even—but if you face the ugly truth nowadays, not everyone really believes this.
Beastly, a re-imagining of the classic Beauty and the Beast fairytale, reuses this clichéd saying and amplified it by setting the story up in contemporary New York, roughly telling its readers that even (or maybe especially is a better term?) in the modern times, most people will always judge you based on how you look. The main protagonist is Kyle Kingsbury, a teenager who has everything a normal teenage boy could ask for: looks to die for, fame, the money of his news anchor dad--you name it, he has it. However, Kyle is extremely narcissistic and he loves to make fun of people who are less fortunate than him when it comes to the financial or looks department. At one occasion he humiliates an ugly goth girl named Kendra in front of the whole school, not knowing that she is actually a beautiful witch. As a comeuppance, she curses him to become a hideous beast, and says that only a true love’s kiss can get him back to normal.
I think the story is quite adorable—in a teenybopper-ish way—interspersed with occasional thought-provoking moments. What I liked about this “love story” is not the romance itself but the transformation of the hero from the jerk that he was to a mature and selfless person in the end. The very point of the tale is that true love sees beyond physical features, but before you can love someone else for what they are inside, you must see beyond your imperfections first and love yourself for who you are. Kyle, being vain and all, can't do this easily and the readers journey with him as he tries to accept it. The readers spend more time with this gradual character change as it occupies more or less the first two hundred pages; it does the last hundred too, though now heavily laden with romance, which of course is essential as it would be the means to lift the curse.
In truth, Kyle doesn’t have everything he wants—he loves his father so much but he isn’t sure if the latter loves him back. Mr. Rob Kingsbury is a busy man, but the way he tries to make it up to his son (which usually involves lots of material things) hurts Kyle/Adrian. I felt genuinely sorry for the boy because every scene with his dad is painful. I almost tear up when his father dispatches him to a separate house with the maid just so no one would see what the famous Kingsbury’s son looks like now (for some reason Mr. Kingsbury reminded me of Mr. Samsa from Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis; I felt the same dislike toward the character too). With no mother to speak of and deprived of paternal affection, I think Kyle's/Adrian's general behavior is sort of explainable: he wanted all the love he could have because he couldn’t gain the ones he truly craves for.
The love interest, Linda Owens, is not a beautiful girl but is described as very smart. She has plain features: flaming red hair, golden freckles, gray-green eyes, and crooked teeth. She lives in a shabby apartment in a dangerous neighborhood and she reads lots of books. In a way, her relationship with her father is almost the same with Kyle/Adrian’s; Daniel Owens is a drug-dealer and he beats Linda up, but Linda stays with him because he loves him, unlike his other daughters. She constantly worries about him, even if he trades her off to the “beast” for a bag of drugs and his life. I couldn’t put a finger on it, but there’s something lacking in her character, like she’s not molded into a three-dimensional person that she should be. Maybe it’s because the story is told from the POV of the beast? *shrugs*
Anyway, the novel also includes online chat sessions of Kyle/Adrian with teenagers who are cursed to become creatures like him. These little conversations are a tad amusing and creative, alluding to a lot of fairytales with new twists.
Again, I think this is a cute book—a cool little break from my Kundera reading I must say. I have to be honest though: I think the last part trudges along the edges of Twilight-like romance, but it doesn’t quite fall into that pit. Maybe it was just my side that doesn’t like super sappy moments, but whatever. I still find this story adorable and I’m giving it a thumb up.
Needless to say, I'm going to see the movie.
Okay, back to Milan Kundera. XD
*Adrian is the name he gave himself after he's turned into a beast.