Book Review: Beast by Brie Spangler

beast cover

by Brie Spangler
GoodreadsAmazon | Audible | Indiebound
Series: no
Release date: October 11th 2016
Rating: Different in a good way.
Times Read: 1
Recommended By: Goodreads

I guess that I should start with saying that I am a white, straight, cis woman and my review is going to come from that perspective.  I can’t speak for others.  I really enjoyed this book.  I found the writing engaging and the characterization was strong enough to make me tear up a couple of times.

I found Dylan to be a sympathetic yet flawed character.  I found him lovable and at the same time I wanted to scream at him because he kept making TERRIBLE choices.  He was pretty damn self-centered.  I liked that his character arch included figuring out how to communicate with the people in his life because holy crap was he bad at it.  He is incredible uncomfortable with the physical reality of his body which is something that I haven’t really seen explored in a male character before. He also falls into the trap of projecting his ideas of himself onto others. 

I felt like Jamie was her own person.  I read a couple of reviews that mentioned that she felt like a “magical manic pixie dream trans girl” but it didn’t read that way to me.  I felt as if she had a life outside of Dylan.  The book focuses on how she is affecting his life but to me that was just because this book was being told from Dylan’s perspective.  I like that she was a strong enough person to refuse to compromise or hide herself to fit herself into Dylan’s life and into his future plans.  

I wish that the secondary characters were better developed.  Dylan’s mom is great in the whole “I am going to help you and in the process steamroller over your life” kind of way.  I never really figured out JP.  I think that he was supposed to grow from more than a douche but I am not sure that he did.  I could have used more closure there.  I am struggling to think of any other characters.

There is a lot of hype around this being a trans book but I found it more trans adjacent.  It explores transphopia, the cruelty and fear that trans people face everyday, and the trans experience in itself.  It does it however though the lens of another character.  This book normalizes those who are transgender.  It makes them part of the larger community of YA that inhabits my brain.  This is all great.  For me as an outsider.  I am not sure that this book is mirror up to trans women in which they will see themselves fully reflected. This book is more like someone else looking in the mirror and you can see yourself behind them.  Which is okay.  I think we need books like this.  I am just waiting for that other book to be written (actually lots of them!  There is more than one story to be told!) because there still seems to be a need.

My feelings about Beast, whatever the flaws, are overwhelmingly positive.  The message seems to that while the world and love itself are not perfect there is still hope for us all. And who couldn’t do with hearing that?

From Goodreads:
Tall, meaty, muscle-bound, and hairier than most throw rugs, Dylan doesn’t look like your average fifteen-year-old, so, naturally, high school has not been kind to him. To make matters worse, on the day his school bans hats (his preferred camouflage), Dylan goes up on his roof only to fall and wake up in the hospital with a broken leg—and a mandate to attend group therapy for self-harmers.

Dylan vows to say nothing and zones out at therapy—until he meets Jamie. She’s funny, smart, and so stunning, even his womanizing best friend, JP, would be jealous. She’s also the first person to ever call Dylan out on his self-pitying and superficiality. As Jamie’s humanity and wisdom begin to rub off on Dylan, they become more than just friends. But there is something Dylan doesn’t know about Jamie, something she shared with the group the day he wasn’t listening. Something that shouldn’t change a thing. She is who she’s always been—an amazing photographer and devoted friend, who also happens to be transgender. But will Dylan see it that way?

Book Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races cover

The Scorpio Races
By Maggies Stiefvater
GoodreadsAmazon | Audible
Series: no
Release date: October 18th, 2011
Rating: OMG, so good
Times read: 3
Recommended by: A student in my book club

Have I mentioned yet that I am a fan of Maggie Stiefvater’s writing? (Spoiler: yes, here, here, here, and here) “Cause I really do. The more of her writing I read the more that I love it. 

The Scorpio Races is an examination of the water horse myth.  Are you aware of water horses?  I may have vaguely heard about them at some point but I had never given them much thought before now.  They are creepy as hell.  Really. You could not pay me enough to get near one.  Horses are big and pretty scary on their own so I found that I needed very little prompting to find the capaill uisce terrifying.

Puck Connolly is (so far) my favorite of Stiefvater’s heroines.  She has spirit nd a sense of humor. In my head this takes place on an island off the coast of Ireland in, like, the 1920’s.  Evidence: general atmosphere, English speaking but not American, I associate horse racing with Ireland, a reporter references the woman’s suffrage movement, the cars are super unreliable, and also just ‘cause. Am I basing this head cannon on flimsy evidence or am I making sense?

Sean Kendrick has made the water horses (one in particular) and the stables his family. I love how self-contained he is. You know how most people have to seek out others in order to be themselves.  Sean is complete unto himself and I love that about him.  There is an inner stillness and certainty to his character that makes him very engaging even when he isn’t doing much.

All the supporting characters are so well realized.  All of them feel like real people.  It seems as if there should be a coffee table book with a photos essay about the people of Thisby including each of these characters. In particular, I found Pucks younger brother Finn to be charming.   I loved that while we are following Puck and Sean and there are the center of the book they are not the center of the supporting characters existence.

The island of Thisby should also be mentioned.  There was such a sense of place in this novel. I swear I could see the cliffs and smell the sea.  I think that the island concept was brilliant in itself.  If the islanders weren’t all trapped in some sense much of the tension of the book would have been lost.  Many of the characters see the island as a cage.  Something to escape. Both Puck and Sean see it differently.  To them the island is not just home it is an inner calling.  Almost as if the island itself is part of their consciousness.  A part of their thinking, A part of their definition of self. 

So much of this book was about expectations.  What you expect of others, what others expect from you, and most importantly what you expect from yourself.  And all of these expectations (know or hidden) are related to Scorpio Race.  It is interesting that the Scorpio Races cause such turmoil on the island and yet I never once questioned it’s existence.  Normally I would not be able to stop myself from thinking that they should stop capturing the scary monster horses and having a race where people die.

I did not find this to be a slow story but I can understand it others do.  When I think back on it very little actually happens.  There is a huge amount of character development and I had all the feels but if I was to break down the plot it would look pretty flat.  I enjoy that type of writing.  If it bugs you then Maggie Stiefvater might not be the writer for you. If you are looking for atmosphere and characters that you feel as if you know then you will find this book a treat.

From Goodreads:
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.