There are plenty of young adult fairy tale retellings out there. So many that I doubt I’d ever be able to read them all if I tried. But when I first saw Brie Spangler’s debut novel, Beast, I was intrigued. Not only is it a retelling of what is perhaps my favorite fairy tale – Beauty and the Beast, obviously – but it’s told from the perspective of the “beast”, in this case, a very large and very hairy fifteen-year-old boy, and features a transgender “beauty”.
(From Goodreads) Tall, meaty, muscle-bound, and hairier than most throw rugs, Dylan doesn’t look like your average fifteen-year-old, so, naturally, high school has not been
kind to him. To make matters worse, on the day his school bans hats (his preferred camouflage), Dylan goes up on his roof only to fall and wake up in the hospital with a broken leg—and a mandate to attend group therapy for self-harmers.
Dylan vows to say nothing and zones out at therapy—until he meets Jamie. She’s funny, smart, and so stunning, even his womanizing best friend, JP, would be jealous. She’s also the first person to ever call Dylan out on his self-pitying and superficiality. As Jamie’s humanity and wisdom begin to rub off on Dylan, they become more than just friends. But there is something Dylan doesn’t know about Jamie, something she shared with the group the day he wasn’t listening. Something that shouldn’t change a thing. She is who she’s always been—an amazing photographer and devoted friend, who also happens to be transgender. But will Dylan see it that way?
Beast was every bit as great as I had hoped. This is definitely one of those books that is driven by it’s characters; the story could have gone a lot of different ways, and I think I still would have liked this book because of its characters. Dylan (aka Beast) in particular was an unexpected favorite. I don’t think I have ever identified so much with a teenage boy. I liked the fact that he eschewed stereotypes even before his beliefs were challenged in the story. I enjoyed his inclination toward academics, especially because my impression of the original fairy tale is that Beauty educates Beast. In Beast, it’s the other way around, at least academically, which is a nice twist. However, it’s Jamie who helps Beast understand his sexuality, which is a different kind of education. I thought Jamie was a great character as well. She knows herself, but has to deal with the ignorance of others, which was nice to see in YA.
I thought the blend of Dylan and Jamie’s relationship, and the challenges that come along with it, with typical teenage problems was great. There are bullies and worried parents and school, but there is also the huge issue of being transgender and how that affects the way people view you. I thought the way Dylan handled being attracted to a transgender girl was real -he struggles with it and ends up questioning his friendship with her as well as his own sexuality – but, ultimately, much more mature than my reaction would have been at fifteen (not something I like to admit, but it’s true). Overall, I thought it was relatable, but in a way that might help others be more understanding, which I loved.
Beast is a wonderful book. I thought it was important and relevant, but also a highly enjoyable read. I ended up reading it in a single sitting, which I haven’t done in a while. If you’re looking for a diverse read, or a great young adult book, I definitely recommend this one!
Beast will be available tomorrow, October 11, online or at your local bookstore. If you’re interested, you can order a copy here.
This book was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.