Book review: Beauty by Robin McKinley

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In this classic young adult retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty Huston is a plain, bookish teenage girl whose family falls on hard times.  Moving from their comfortable city life to a more modest life in the countryside, Beauty finds that she much prefers manual labor over fancy balls.

Long after the family has adjusted to their new lifestyle, Beauty’s father becomes lost in the woods during a blizzard and stumbles upon a seemingly abandoned castle.  He stays for the night and finds himself well taken care of by invisible servants.  It’s only when he picks a rose to take home to Beauty that he finally meets the terrifying Beast.

After all his hospitality, Beast roars, how could this man try to steal one of his beautiful flowers?  Beast demands a life companion within the month, either  Mr. Huston or one of his beloved daughters.  Back home, much to the dismay of her sisters and her father, Beauty insists that she be the one to accompany Beast.

Despite his outward appearance, Beast is a kind creature.  He keeps to himself and ensures that all of Beauty’s needs are attended to.  She has more books than she’s ever imagined, a variety of delicacies for dinner every night, and the wardrobe of a queen.  Still, Beauty cannot bring herself to return Beast’s affection.

First things first, I would not have read this book if not for my #mmdreading challenge.  The prompt was “a book published before you were born,” and I went back and forth for months trying to figure out an acceptable book.  Thanks to Book Riot for posting about Robin McKinley, because I doubt that I would have found this book otherwise.  First published in 1978, this book is definitely from before my time.

This book is, more or less, what I’d expect from classic YA.  It definitely feels old-fashioned, and it’s not just the historical setting.  Beauty is very much filled with the boring day-to-day stuff: Beauty wakes up, eats breakfast, feeds her horse, reads a book, rides her horse, eats lunch, walks in the gardens, watches the sunset, eats dinner, goes to bed, and constantly muses about her life while she does it.  In contrast, modern YA moves fast, skipping all of this introspective nonsense in favor of the action.  I prefer today’s YA, but that’s just my personal preference.

The first half of the book is painfully slow and painfully boring.  I had to force myself to keep reading, telling myself again and again that this book couldn’t have all of those glowing five-star ratings if not for some payoff in the end.  It does pick up speed in the middle, and the last twenty pages or so barrel toward an abrupt and rather unsatisfying ending.  And that’s another problem – the love story between Beauty and Beast really doesn’t begin until the last few pages.  Despite the hundreds of reviewers classifying it as such, this is hardly a romance – there’s slow burn, and then there’s this, where the romance is practically non-existent.

Fairytale retellings are one of my favorite genres, but Beauty didn’t quite do it for me.  McKinley doesn’t expand too much on the original story, and as I just said, the romance leaves a lot to be desired.  I’m giving this book three stars because the writing is nice, it’s a classic, and it definitely paved the way for today’s YA.  I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it – more than anything, I was kind of indifferent to it.  All in all, it’s not a bad book.  It’s just not the book for me.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

#mmdreading: a book published before you were born

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