You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It's no deformity, no disease. And I'll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.
Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I'll tell you. I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I'll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly. From Amazon US
What better way to look at body image and self-perception than by looking at a story everyone knows pretty well, and one of the oldest stories around that deals with looks, Beauty and the Beast. Alex Flinn has made this story a lot easier to discuss for this subject by having her re-telling, Beastly, set in modern times, with characters we can all recognise, and with the beast telling his story.
Firstly, I liked this book, but it didn’t knock my socks off. As up-to-date as it was, there were moments where it felt like Alex tried to stick to the original story too much, and clashed a little with the modern, making it less believable. But for this topic, it was brilliant!
Kyle Kingsbury is gorgeous. He knows it, everyone knows it. He has been brought up by his Dad, a news anchor, to believe looks are all that matters. If you don’t look good, you don’t matter – and you should make yourself look better.
"'If someone’s so smart, they’d figure how to get better-looking. You could lose weight, get plastic surgery, even get your face scraped and your teeth bleached... My dad’s a network news guy. He says people shouldn’t have to look at ugly people.'" (p5).
His attitude and behaviour makes a witch angry, and so, as the story goes, she turns him into a beast, and everything changes. His girlfriend doesn’t want to know. His Dad, after taking Kyle to several different medical experts with no avail, sends him from New York City with the maid to live in a big house in Brooklyn – without him. Shunned, he lives a lonely existence with the maid, Magda, and Will, the blind tutor he gets his Dad to hire for him. His opinion also changes.
"...You see these people, like guys in wheelchairs with stumps of legs just reaching the edge, or people with burns on their faces. Maybe their legs got blown off in a war, or someone threw acid at them. I never really thought about them. If I thought about them at all, what I thought was how to get past them without them touching me. They grossed me out. But now I thought about them all the time, how one minute you can be normal – beautiful, even – and then something can happen the next minute that changes it. You can be damaged beyond repair. A freak. I was a freak..." (p75-76)
A lot of the story then starts focussing on Kyle’s, who changes his name to Adrian, depression over being alone, and not being able to go out. He becomes obsessed with trying to find the girl who could break the spell. Once she, Linda, is living with him, and they become friends, he drifts back and forth between hope and being certain that she could never love him.
"'If I was at least normal, I might have had a shot with her. I’m not talking about the way I used to look, but it’s asking a lot to expect a girl to be interested in someone who isn’t even human. It’s sick.'" (p258)
For a Beauty and the Beast story told from the perspective of the beast, I would have hoped for a little more in the way of low self-esteem based on what he thought, rather than because of what others think, but overall, Beastly is a pretty good story. With a strong message of its what’s on the inside that counts, and an uplifting ending, Beastly could open the eyes of those who are short sighted.
Published: Dec 2008
Buy on Amazon UK
Buy on Amazon US
Alex Flinn’s website
Beastly has been made into a movie which will be playing at cinemas this month! Check out the feature below.