So many of us who've grown up in small towns can relate to Ethan Wate, the narrator of "Beautiful Creatures." He's lived his whole life in Gatlin, South Carolina, as have generations of his family, but he's been counting the days until he can escape its Civil War-obsessed, small-minded borders. And as much as Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's debut novel, which was optioned by Warner Bros. on the week of its release, is about the new girl with magical powers, it's also about Ethan's more common struggle. That's what sets it apart from the supernatural YA novel of the week.
Ethan used to have it pretty good: He was on the basketball team in high school, dated a cheerleader, had a loyal best friend and made good grades without effort. Having two professors for parents always set him apart, but as long as he kept his collection of classic novels hidden under his bed, the other kids didn't notice how different he really was. But after his mother died in a car crash last year, his dad has locked himself in his study writing the great American novel, leaving Ethan in the care of his superstitious housekeeper, Amma. And he doesn't dare tell her or anyone else about the crazy realistic dreams he's been having about a girl slipping through his hands and falling into darkness.
Ethan is intrigued when he hears there's a new girl in school — someone from the outside world he longs to join. Lena Duchannes is labeled off-limits by the rest of the kids when they find out she's the niece of Old Man Ravenwood, who lives shut away in a frightening mansion on the outskirts of town. Still, Ethan is drawn to the beautiful, black-haired girl with sparkling green eyes, and when he comes to her defense against the vicious taunts of the in-crowd, he finds himself an outcast too.
Oh, so what about that supernatural stuff? It turns out that Lena has some pretty special powers (just don't call her a "witch," she's a "Caster") — the most intriguing one being her ability to communicate with Ethan telepathically. And something very bad is going to go down when she turns 16. She won't tell him what, but together they discover it has something to do with both of their ancestors, ill-fated lovers in the Civil War.
"Beautiful Creatures," the first in a planned five-part series, is full of deliciously dark, Southern Gothic atmosphere, which Lena matches (or creates?) with her own moody despair. But we readers are saved from doom and gloom by Ethan's determined pragmatic attitude, and we cling to his hope that that will be enough to save Lena too.
Have you read "Beautiful Creatures"? Who do you think should play Lena and Ethan in the movie? Weigh in below!