Wild Beauty

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Wild Beauty Book Poster Image
Lush, lyrical magical realism tale of love and family curse.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn about magical realism, various flowers the sisters specialize in growing, and how quarries work.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the value of open communication between family members, acceptance of all forms of love, sexual orientation, and gender expressions, and the overwhelming nature of true love. Also: Acknowledge past mistakes, ask for forgiveness, move forward, and redeem yourself.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The Nomeolvides cousins are brave, kind, and courageous, assertive, compassionate, and fiercely loyal. They love and protect one another and those they care about; they work together to try to keep Fel safe, and they want the best for one another.

Violence

Flashbacks to a disaster that killed many people and devastated an entire area. Someone is believed dead.

Sex

Passionate kissing and caressing between a few different couples. One couple makes love, but it's not graphic or gratuitous.

Language

Insults include "Nancy," "Molly," "stupid," "bastard," "witch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink and smoke (cigars and cigarettes) individually and at meals/parties.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Wild Beauty is the third magical realism novel by award-winning young adult author Anna-Marie McLemore. A beautifully written story about a family of women who can grow flowers with their hands, the book takes place in an unspecified period and place. It explores various themes of family, forgiveness, secrets, redemption, and love. There's not much strong language except for a few insults (a few about effeminate or perceived-as-gay men). The violence includes a few disturbing, upsetting recollections: about a disaster that kills many people and destroys part of a town, and the assumed death and disappearance of a couple of characters. Mature teen readers familiar with magical realism will appreciate the sensuous language and the emotional romance.

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What's the story?

In Anna-Marie McLemore's third magical realism novel WILD BEAUTY, the enchanted women of the Nomeolvides ("Forget-Me-Not" in Spanish) family have tended to the gardens of La Pradera -- a beautiful estate owned by the Briar family in an undisclosed location -- for generations. Like their aunts, mothers, and grandmothers before them, the youngest generation of cousins: Estrella, Azalea, Calla, Dalia, and Gloria (all named after flowers) can magically make flowers bloom with their bare hands, but all the ability comes at a price. They've been told that their blessings come with a curse: Anyone they truly love will disappear, and if they leave the property they will die. When the cousins realize that they're all in love with young Bay Briar, gender-bending heiress to La Pradera, they try to appease the earth to keep her from disappearing. The garden then mysteriously gives them a present: a handsome young man in period clothes emerges from the dirt with no memory at all.

Is it any good?

A gorgeously written tale of family curses, feminism, and true love, this is an ideal choice for fans of magical realism and romance. Estrella and her cousins are stuck in their ancestral home, tending a sunken garden and making sure they don't fall in love -- lest that person disappear forever. The cousins are fiercely protective of one another, and it's clear they struggle with their individual desires and what they believe is best for their whole family. Estrella's growing connection with Fel, the mystery man who comes out of the enchanted earth, is a beautifully slow-burning love story of shared secrets and small moments so tender they'll make some readers cry.

McLemore's books aren't easy page-turners, because they demand to be savored and enjoyed. The language is so rich and lyrical, you need time to process the words, not just speed-read to find out what happens. Reid is a compelling nemesis -- greedy and uninterested in the Nomeolvides women as anything but servants or playthings he can use, whereas Bay (a "bastard Briar") deeply loves and understands them. But Wild Beauty isn't the Briars' story, it's a Nomeolvides tale, and like their name, it's not one you shall forget.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the author uses magical realism in Wild Beauty. How are the women's magical abilities with flowers symbolic in addition to literal?

  • Are there any role models in the book? What character strengths do they demonstrate? Why are compassion and empathy important?

  • What do you think about how romance is portrayed in Wild Beauty? Which couples did you want to end up together? 

Book details

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