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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon

Reading level: Young Adult 
Hardcover: 464 pages 
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH (September 21, 2010) 
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

On the morning of her sixteenth birthday, Renée Winters was still an ordinary girl. She spent her summers at the beach, had the perfect best friend, and had just started dating the cutest guy at school. No one she'd ever known had died. But all that changes when she finds her parents dead in the Redwood Forest, in what appears to be a strange double murder.

After the funeral Renée’s wealthy grandfather sends her to Gottfried Academy, a remote and mysterious boarding school in Maine, where she finds herself studying subjects like Philosophy, Latin, and the “Crude Sciences.”

It’s there that she meets Dante Berlin, a handsome and elusive boy to whom she feels inexplicably drawn. As they grow closer, unexplainable things begin to happen, but Renée can’t stop herself from falling in love. It’s only when she discovers a dark tragedy in Gottfried’s past that she begins to wonder if the Academy is everything it seems.

Little does she know, Dante is the one hiding a dangerous secret, one that has him fearing for her life.
Dead Beautiful is both a compelling romance and thought-provoking read, bringing shocking new meaning to life, death, love, and the nature of the soul.

Book Opening: 

"My parents died on a hot August evening. It was my sixteenth birthday, and my best friend, Annie, and I had snuck out to Santa Rosa for the day to celebrate."

Dead Beautiful

Notable Scene:
"What do you think I am, then?"
That he was brilliant. That he was dangerous, but still made me feel safe. That he was different from everyone else I had ever met. 
"Strangely perfect," I said, before I could stop myself. 
- Page 194

DEAD BEAUTIFUL was a book with solid writing, oodles of intrigue and an ominous air of foreboding that contrasted nicely with the eerie world of Gottfried Academy itself. The real strength of this book lay within its world building; it really was so inventive and fascinating. Also, so often supernatural boarding school books are home to teens with magic or paranormal superpowers, but Dead Beautiful surprised me in that it was different from what I expected. Woon's twist on the YA boarding school theme was so unique, thought-provoking and heartbreaking. Though I have to admit that the book did meander at times, I'm definitely glad I gave it a try.

HIGHLIGHTS:  I was immediately drawn into Renee's world. I felt for this girl. Her whole life had just spiraled into a spinning whirl of confusion and strange occurrences and I couldn't help but get sucked into her struggles.  I was immediately drawn into the story by the questionable nature of her parent's murder, and also by her strange, stoic grandfather. I thought it was suspect that right off the bat he insisted for Renee to attend some creepy old boarding school hidden in the backwoods of Maine. Why was he so adamant about her going? I couldn't wait to get to the bottom of that.

And as for Dante Berlin? Well he was quite the mystery.  I couldn't quite figure out why he made Renee feel so strange when he touched her all the time, why he was so cold and why fellow students were dying all around him in similar fashion to that of Renee's parents. Right from the start I got the distinct feeling that both the school and Dante were hiding some pretty powerful secrets that I just had to figure out.

I also want to point out that it was extremely refreshing that Renee didn't have to battle any "mean girls", even though her roommate had the makings and background to be one. For once, we actually were introduced to a secondary character that was rich, popular, pretty and (gasp) a nice person!

But the best part? Well if you haven't read the book, let me just hint that what Dante turned out to be has actually never been done before. Woon's vision for the book was really amazing. It all made sense and was easy to follow too, which was the extra cherry on top.  I really appreciated how she pulled certain elements within the paranormal genre, twisted them around, added in a dollop of Classical mythology and philosophy, then served up a dish that was not only exciting, but most importantly, something entirely her own.

LOWLIGHTS: Soon after Renee immersed herself into her new life at school, the book began to painfully meander about at such a lethargic pace that I found myself zoning out and having to actually re-read the same paragraphs over and over a couple of times. Sadly, all the momentum from the beginning seemed to come to a screeching halt for me.

BOTTOM LINE:  Despite a serious case of book bloat, Dead Beautiful was chocked full of amazing twists and turns that I honestly never saw coming. The last few chapters definitely kicked into high gear for me, but by that point, everything felt so rushed it made me dizzy. I personally would've preferred if the author had taken out some unnecessary chapters in the middle and expanded more on that ending, because it definitely had my full attention.

Dead Beautiful ended with a heartbreaking twist and I suspect many fans of mystery and romance will do the same. I'm hoping that by the time the sequel comes, the minor kinks I've mentioned will have worked themselves out because this is a series is one with a lot of potential. 

Image of "Yvonne Woon"

Yvonne Woon grew up in Massachusetts, where she attended Worcester Academy. She is currently a graduate student at Columbia University, obtaining a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction. Dead Beautiful is her first book. Official Website


GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I listened to this one on audio and I felt like I was listening to the same parts over and over! It did come to a big halt and got boring, but I've had teens tell me they enjoyed it, so maybe if you really like paranormal you'd like it.

Bere said...

Wonderful review, Kim! This one seems quite interesting and I would love to give it a chance. I have actually never heard of this one before, until now. I'll be on the lookout. Thank you, Kim =).

Tara said...

Thought it was a really great book! Definitely kept me on my toes and wondering what would happen next

Michele said...

I love Dead Beautiful I could not put it down!!! I hope you will write a sequal.