Series: Dead Beautiful (Book 1 of 3) Publication Date: September 21, 2010 Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Hardback ISBN-13: 978-1423119562
The Series Continues:
Publisher SynopsisOn 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.
Years ago when it released, I often gazed at the beautiful cover of Dead Beautiful. And though I wondered what it was like, I never committed to buying a copy. So when it was available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to finally see what it was all about.
My reaction is mixed. There are things I loved and things that could have been better. Let’s start with what I liked. I’m a sucker for anything that smacks of Gothic. So I like the dark, moody elements. The beginning of the novel captured my attention with the mysterious sudden deaths of Renee’s parents. And when her seemingly mean grandfather shows up, things get interesting. The old boarding school with its mysterious Gottfried Curse serves as an interesting setting. The glimpses into what the kids learn in Gottfried’s unique classical studies curriculum are fun and fascinating. And, similar to Hogwarts, in addition to original classes, we have creepy, villainous teachers. In short, the mystery and suspense is a highlight — even if the revelations that come don’t always surprise, the novel’s larger mythological context keeps things fresh.
Characterization could have been stronger. Let’s talk about Renée. She’s likeable enough — curious, independent, determined, and, though she can be impulsive, generally level-headed. So I couldn’t help but groan when she purposely screwed up her performance in Latin class to ensure that love-interest Dante would continue to tutor her. Come on! You don’t need tutoring as an excuse to spend time with the boy. Surely you aren’t so blind that you can’t see he likes you! Additionally, Renée is so self-centered and obsessed with Dante that she barely takes notice of things that affect others close to her. If the author’s intent was to temporarily divert attention from other subplots, she could have at least made it clear that Renée was worried so she doesn’t seem heartless.
Dante is the typical beautiful brooding Edward Cullen-type male. The parallels to Twilight are definitely there. Girl meets sullen boy, shares a moment in science class, the pair instantly falls in love. The boy, who has a secret, is always close by and fears the girl won’t love him if she finds out what kind of “monster” he is. Still, the gallant lover-boy swears that he could never hurt his cherished doll.
Yep, the romantic element suffers from stereotypical insta-love. Though, to give credit where it’s due, things improve once Renée and Dante start to spend quality time and have meaningful conversation. Still, the “steamy” parts are a little too stock romance. As I said before, Renée isn’t a flighty girl, so it’s hard to accept that she would become flowery and swooning in her descriptions of Dante. While it would have been more enjoyable had the characters been more realistic, I’m willing to write-off some of the melodramatic bits as part and parcel of gothic fiction. Though I wouldn’t consider Dead Beautiful strictly gothic; it’s thoroughly contemporary, outside of the school curriculum.
Flaws included, I enjoyed Dead Beautiful. There is sufficient mystery remaining, enough still unanswered to make me want to continue the story and pick up the subsequent installments in the series.
3.5 of 5 hearts. Recommended, With Reservation. This mysterious boarding school romance may appeal to readers of books like Twilight and Beautiful Creatures. Though it doesn’t eclipse other works in the same genre, Dead Beautiful has charm enough to gain and sustain its audience’s interest.*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Disney-Hyperion for allowing NetGalley access to the book in exchange for my honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”