A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Beautiful is a New Orleans-set paranormal romance inspired by author Renée Ahdieh's love of Anne Rice's best-selling Vampire Chronicles series. The main character, Celine, is a mixed-race (White and East Asian) young French woman who has had to flee Paris for New Orleans in 1872. After arriving at the convent that will serve as her home, she meets a mysterious, handsome man and his circle of close friends -- who seem almost otherworldly (spoiler alert: They are!). Like most paranormal romances, there is some bloody violence (people have their throats sliced open, limbs and other body parts are detached, including a severed head, people are shot) as well as sexual assault, intimidation, and the turning of a human into a vampire. The language is occasionally but not frequently strong (a couple of uses of "f--k," "shit," and the like), and there are a lot of suggestive scenes that focus on feelings of attraction and desire. One particularly passionate make-out session includes positive consent modeling but stops short of sex. Readers will learn about 19th-century New Orleans, which is described in so much detail it becomes another central character in the story.
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What's the story?
THE BEAUTIFUL starts with Celine Rousseau, a French, half-East Asian, half-white 17-year-old who flees Paris after surviving a personal tragedy in 1872. Arriving in New Orleans, Celine lives in a convent of Ursuline nuns who take in six wayward girls. Celine quickly becomes involved in the glamorous group La Cour des Lions who seem like a salon of rich, international hedonists after she crosses paths with its leader, the sexy and mysterious Sébastien ("Bastien") Saint Germain and his sisterly best friend Odette, who's the kind of independent, empowered woman Celine wishes she had the freedom to become. When the dead body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the La Cour headquarters, it's clear there's a killer on the loose, and Celine could be next.
Is it any good?
Author Renée Ahdieh pays homage to Anne Rice's thrillers in this period New Orleans-set vampire romance that features a clever, diverse, and sexy cast of characters. In her author letter, Ahdieh acknowledges how much she loved Rice's Vampire Chronicles (the most famous of which is Interview With a Vampire), and it's clear she is in some way recreating and refreshing Rice's themes and locations in The Beautiful. Even the title is familiar -- both a description of the gorgeous La Cour de Lions crowd and a nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned (The Damned is also the name of this book's follow-up, out in June, 2020). But instead of being about rich young socialites who suffer a downfall in Jazz Age New York, this is about a young woman caught up in the world of rich supernatural socialites in post-Civil War NOLA.
Ahdieh is wonderful at building romantic tension, and Celine and Bastien share a palpable slow-burn chemistry from their first encounter onward. Occasionally there are repetitious descriptions of Bastien's devilish charm, Celine's "inner creature" (obviously her growing desire), and their push-and-pull feelings for each other. Most of the characters have culturally diverse backgrounds, New Orleans having been a melting pot of that era, and both Celine and Bastien speak more than English on a regular basis. The pacing adds to the sense of peril and the mystery of who is committing all the heinous crimes. As for the romance, the burgeoning love triangle is an unwelcome but standard feature in speculative teen fiction. One minor complaint is that while Celine's and Bastien's ages make sense, the age of Michael, Celine's other suitor and Bastien's best-friend turned rival, seems unrealistically young (teen detectives?). It's also hard to believe anyone would want Celine and Michael to end up together, no matter how great his Italian grandmother is in that one scene. Ahdieh captures the spirit of New Orleans and the allure of being free of societal restrictions based on gender, class, or perceived virtue. Readers will be ready for the next and final installment, which should answer burning questions and result in a happier ending.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the enduring popularity of paranormal romances like The Beautiful. Why do you think they remain popular? Do you think vampire romances are making a comeback now that Twilight is more than a decade old?
What does Bastien mean that men "risk little" by "taking a woman to bed" but women "risk everything" (reputation, future, well-being)? Do you agree with his statement, or is that no longer the case? What about that idea still resonates in today's culture?
Which characters, if any, do you consider role models in the book? What character strengths do they display? Do books need role models if they're aimed at kids and teens?
What do you think about the amount of violence in The Beautiful? Is it necessary to the plot? How does book violence affect people differently than on-screen violence?
- Author: Renee Ahdieh
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Publication date: February 2, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 448
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 8, 2020
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