May 17, 2012

Review: Dead Beautiful

By: Yvonne Woon
Published: September 2010 by Hyperion Book CH
Format: Hardback, 455 pages
First Reviewed: April 2011
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
Add it on Goodreads

It wasn't until Gottfried Academy that I began to make sense of who I was, and what I was fated to become.

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.

Rating: 3.5/5

When a book opens with a prologue that's more than unnecessary, I get extremely worried. This had one of those prologues. So for the first, I'd say, a little over fourth of the story, I was not impressed, and was preparing myself for either an okay read, a non-original story, or a just boring, too-tell-y book. But this is a perfect example of why I finish every book I start. It proved me wrong.

The overall setup has been done over and over and over again (big city until something bad happens, then remote, private, prep boarding school far away at an old, old building). Initially, Woon wasn't giving me anything different with the setting, but as the story moved forward, she began setting herself apart from other books. And I loved my mental image of the school. Old Victorian Gothic mansion. Oh yeah.

When gearing up for the review, I struggled to get a solid opinion on the characters. In the beginning, I couldn't connect to Renée. Even though she was supposed to be sixteen, she felt much, much younger and more like just a voice rather than a person. But as the story developed, so did she, and I found myself getting more and more of her personality. She became a mature teen like expected, which could have been on purpose, I couldn't tell. She had a pretty strong voice later on in the novel, though I would have liked to have seen that from the get go.

Thinking back, the characters all had much more personality and dimensions than I had thought while reading (which would mark this as an interesting re-read). Some of them had seemed pretty one-dimensional, but now that I'm reflecting, they really weren't. They all had voices, purposes, and even characters we only "saw," but didn't necessarily interact with were intriguing.

What I loved the most about the writing is that I watched it grow from page one to the end. If I had put this book down five chapters in (these are lonnngg chapters), I probably would have rated Woon's writing a 2.5 or maybe a 3. It had grated on my nerves in the beginning; it was just okay. Nothing special. But then it grew. She got better and better with describing without taking away from the story, and she made me read instead of me wanting to. The one thing that bothered me throughout was that she'd randomly stop to talk to the reader. Like "Let me rewind," or "Let me tell you," which bugged me. I think it would have been better without those lines. Other than that, Woon has skills, that's clear, and if she grew this much in one book, I'd love to see what she does with her next novel.

Again, if I were feeling this out based on the of the book, then you'd have me going on about how unoriginal it is and how I've read it a thousand times. However, once you get into the mystery and darkness and the secrets, it's very, very original. I was surprised, actually, and loved where Woon took it. She managed to create a commercial paranormal romance that involved more than just the romance. It branched off into the supporting cast and it was more or a dark paranormal mystery with romance as a major plot point, which I liked. What did bother me was that some things were almost like a "Duh!" thing, but it took the characters forever to figure it out, and once they did, I was like, "Uh, it took you all that time to figure that out? That was the easiest thing to figure out. Come on, y'all!" But other than that and a few minor issues, I rather enjoyed this plot. It was much different than I'd expected. Much, much different.

I glanced at the ratings of this on Goodreads (haven't read the reviews because I try not to until I'm done reading) and it's rated much lower than I expected. I must not be in the norm because I thought it was a good read. Minor issues here and there, of course, and some things I hope are developed more in the next book, but really, I enjoyed this book and almost read it in one setting.

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