I didn’t know what to expect from the young-adult novel ‘The Year of the Beasts’ by Cecil Castellucci because I simply bought it due to a crazy discount and hadn’t ever heard of the title or the author before. It turned out to be an engaging read, even though the principal protagonist is an angsty-jealous-self-centred teen.
The story follows 15-year-old Tessa, whose younger sister Lulu begins to date her crush Charlie, and this drives the siblings apart. Honestly, now that I am writing this review, I realize this book has a lot of story tropes I typically find annoying –
+ angsty teen with nothing better to do than drool over boys.
+ siblings falling for the same person (ugh)
+ best-friends suddenly being not too nice with each-other.
+ Dating someone nice but treating them like a social pariah just because they are not popular
But despite all these typical plot points, I really enjoyed reading ‘The Year of the Beasts’! In large parts because of Cecil Castellucci’s simple smooth prose and also because the story is leisurely set during the summer school-break, so the characters have nothing better to do than eat ice-cream, hang out with friends or make-out with their boyfriends. It made me miss summer vacations sans adult responsibilities.
Each prose chapter in ‘The Year of the Beasts’ is followed by an illustrated comic-book style chapter drawn by Nate Powell. But I felt like the alternate chapters didn’t blend well with each other. While the prose bit follows Tessa and Lulu’s summer adventure, the illustrated pages tell a fantasy-like tale of a teen Medusa struggling at school. She is supposed to be a metaphorical representation of Tessa. For example, Tessa is very insecure about her physical appearance because of her messy hair and she tends to treat people terribly. The Medusa’s hair symbolizes both Tessa’s hatred for her own hair and the poisonous quality of her insecurities; which is why she turns people into stone – a parallel on how it’s hard to make friends for someone who doesn’t love themselves. So, I understand the point of the comic book portion, but it could’ve been a lot better.
What I wasn’t expecting from the novel was a tragic climax, which comes out of nowhere, like an unexpected tsunami. Tessa and her friends are forced to deal with life-changing experiences, and the protagonist has two options – to either be bitter or try to be better. Cecil Castellucci whips up a summer storm in the end and might leave readers either overwhelmed or underwhelmed, depending on what her writing manages to stir up.
It’s a 3.5 on 5 from me.
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