The Year of the Beasts

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The Year of the Beasts Book Poster Image
Prose and comics mix in intense tale of sibling rivalry.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Year of the Beasts presents a realistic portrayal of the kinds of behavior that teens indulge in when they first begin to date. The comics portions of the book employ archetypes from Greek mythology (Medusa, the Minotaur, a centaur and a siren/mermaid) to comment on the main action.

Positive Messages

Although there's a large amount of sadness in The Year of the Beasts, the book ends on a hopeful note and stresses the importance of making the most of the time we have with the people we care about.

Positive Role Models & Representations

For much of The Year of the Beasts, Tessa is confused about how she should feel about her sister Lulu's relationship with Charlie the football star and about her own boyfriend, the withdrawn, elusive Jasper. She learns a harsh lesson, and by the end of the book she understands that she must be gentler with those who offer their love and friendship to her.


In the illustrated portions of The Year of the Beasts, the Medusa character inadvertently turns her parents, teachers, and classmates to stone with her snaky gaze. In the prose portions, a swimming accident has dire physical and emotional consequences for all concerned.


The characters in The Year of the Beasts are all exploring their sexual identities and learning what it means to be "boyfriend" and "girlfriend." There's much talk and depiction of holding hands, kissing, and making out, but the level of physical intimacy doesn't rise much above that. There's a reference to a couple lying "half-naked" in each other's arms, but the exact nature of this near-nudity isn't specified.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The teen characters in The Year of the Beasts note that some adults drink alcohol at a neighborhood party and become less vigilant regarding the teens' behavior. The teens themselves don't drink alcohol. It's rumored that one of the boys smokes marijuana, but this behavior isn't depicted. Antidepressants are prescribed for one character in the wake of a tragedy.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Year of the Beasts mixes sections of prose and comics to tell complementary tales of romantic exploration and loss. The narrative moves inexorably toward tragedy, but the emotional pain involved isn't gratuitous and ultimately leads to an understanding of kindness and forbearance. There's some kissing and making out, a swimming accident, and, in the comics section, the Medusa character inadvertently turns her parents, teachers, and classmates to stone with her snaky gaze.

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What's the story?

In THE YEAR OF THE BEASTS, 15-year-old Tessa starts the summer planning to explore her attraction to Charlie, but she's surprised when it's her younger sister, Lulu, who begins spending time with the handsome football player. Tessa has her own admirer in Jasper, a shy loner, but the intensity of her jealousy toward her sister grows unabated. Meanwhile, a comics story about the Greek gorgon Medusa and her curse of turning those she loves into stone offers tantalizing clues about Tessa and Lulu's fates.

Is it any good?

The Year of the Beasts is a tender, affecting, and hard-hitting tale of teen romance and jealousy. Cecil Castellucci ably captures the giddiness and angst of first love, and her depiction of the interplay between two competing sisters and their group of friends always feels psychologically honest. Nate Powell's illustrated sections comment obliquely on the prose chapters, until everything coalesces in one devastating incident at the book's climax. The Year of the Beasts might upset some sensitive readers, but it earns its emotional ending.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it's like to begin dating and what expectations teens should have when they start spending more time with the opposite sex.

  • Why do characters from Greek mythology, such as Medusa or the Minotaur, continue to be powerful literary archetypes?

  • Is it typical for siblings to be jealous of each other? What are some constructive ways of dealing with such feelings?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love graphic novels and romance

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