Monday, May 14, 2012

Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci

Pub date: May 22, 2012.

Author website.

Every summer the trucks roll in, bringing the carnival and its infinite possibilities to town. This year Tessa and her younger sister Lulu are un-chaperoned and want to be first in line to experience the rides, the food . . . and the boys. Except this summer, jealousy will invade their relationship for the first time, setting in motion a course of events that can only end in tragedy, putting everyone's love and friendship to the test.   Alternating chapters of prose and comics are interwoven in this extraordinary novel that will break your heart and crack it wide open at the same time.  (

Now I'm kinda torn on YEAR OF THE BEASTS.  On one hand I liked the voice and the storytelling, along with the set-up of the story itself, how it alternated between prose and comic.  On the other hand I just wasn't all that thrilled with the story and ended up thinking is was a bit melodramatic.

The whole carnival aspect that the blurb emphasized is really minimal.  It happened at the very beginning of the story and while it was the catalyst for the story to move forward the way it did that's the end of its relevance.  Ultimately this story, based on the comic portion, is far more rooted in Greek myth than anything fanciful like a carnival.  Not that there's anything wrong with that but it makes the blurb slightly misleading.

In the prose portion Tessa ends up making herself a rival to her sister, who ends up getting the guy she has a crush on.  And it begins to develop as your standard sibling rivalry except it's a little more one-sided.  Tessa finds herself inferior to Lulu in looks and personality and whatnot.  But Tessa ultimately finds her own boy.  He just turns out to be someone that "isn't acceptable" to the crowd she hangs out with so she hides him.  And he kind of wants to stay hidden, refusing to hang out with her while with her friends.  A bit of a douche.  He redeems his douchiness towards the end of the story but ultimately he's a pretty big dick, saying that he just CAN'T go out with them as a group, blah, blah, emo, blah.

The comic portion runs along side the prose, telling it in a fashion that was so over the top melodramatic that I had a hard time getting over it.  Tessa's Medusa and has to wear a scarf over her hair in order to keep from turning people into stone while Lulu, the beautiful mermaid, gets adored and praised to the point of suffocation.  It was just a little much for me.  Trust me.  I had, and still have, body image issues, but Medusa?  Seriously?  It seemed a little too much for me to swallow.  Great art and everything but it elevated the story to a point just left of ridiculous in my eyes.

The ending had me crying.  Without a doubt it was pretty heart-wrenching.  I did like the way Tessa recovered from it though.  The event at the end changes a lot of people's lives and it opened up their eyes to a greater world.  The ending, really, was spot on.  I couldn't have asked for a better one.  If there was less melodrama leading up to it I probably would have liked it better.

Tessa and Lulu were sort of flowy characters, swirling around each other pretty seamlessly as the story progressed.  They fed off each other, each being strong when the other was weak, providing a homeostasis within the story itself.  But it does get thrown off and people have to adjust.  It's all in how they adjust to that wrench that reinstates that kind of nirvana.  Leading into the ending again it all fit.  Homeostasis was rebalanced, tenuously and for the time being.  But I'll take it.

See what I mean about torn?  I liked it but I kinda didn't like it.  The voice was phenomenal.  I loved how the story was told when it was in prose.  In comic it was a bit much but the art was fantastic.  The plot itself was kind of dull, nothing that hasn't really been done before but the ending blew me away a bit.  Not expected at all.  So can I recommend YEAR OF THE BEASTS?  Probably.  The only way to know if you'll like it is to read it.  I obviously can't tell you one way or another.

Ban Factor: Low - I really don't know what would get banner panties in a twist in this one.  The characters talk about kissing but that's the extent of the sexuality.  Medusa turning people into stone?  Can be horrifying.  Not much by the way of swearing though.  A little bit but you'd need to dig to find it.
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