Ethan’s family has lived in Gatlin, South Carolina, “the epicenter of the middle of nowhere,” for generations. The town is full of history and superstition, as Ethan believes can only happen in the South. The neighbors are obsessed with the Civil War, which they call (like many Southerners) “The War of Northern Aggression.” His dreams of a mysterious girl become reality when he begins his sophomore year at Stonewall Jackson High and sees Lena for the first time. And this new girl is special—not only is she a break from the extraordinary boredom of the town (finally!), but she has extraordinary powers.
Lena’s big problem seems to be that she is old man Ravenwood’s niece. As the relative of a shut in who makes ‘Boo Radley look like a social butterfly,’ she is prejudged as a social nobody. She plays the haunting song of Ethan’s dreams “Sixteen Moons.” She also comes to school in a hearse. But much worse is in store for Lena than being shunned by the cheer squad. She’s a Caster (think ‘witch’) and has no control over whether, on her sixteenth birthday—coming soon—she will be changed to dark or light, good or evil. If she goes dark, she won’t retain any compassion or love for others (that, of course, includes Ethan). It’s what happened to Lena’s cousin, Riley, a year earlier. And Riley is one scary witch.
Ethan is energetic, funny, and escapes the boredom of his town life through books. If he were a girl, you’d call him sassy. I related to him immediately. It’s fun that he narrates the book because Gothic romance almost always has a female narrator.
I’m pretty late in realizing that Beautiful Creatures was becoming a movie. I ran out and got a few more copies for each of my schools, and then read it as quickly as possible. I usually have complaints about Gothic/fantasy books because they repeat themselves so often, but not so in Beautiful Creatures. It’s a long book, but we regularly get new information and the story moves along. It’s true that a few big scenes are pretty straight steals from Stephen King’s Carrie (another big dance gone wrong!) and the “Harper Valley PTA” song, but I enjoyed the writing, the characters, and the setting. When people act out of character, there is a reason, revealed in the book’s climax. The fact that it’s multigenerational—information about Casters and Seers comes from aunts, uncles, grandparents—adds to the fun of the mystery and gives us more people to worry about when the spells and supernatural evil starts flying.