I’ve read a lot of retellings of “Beauty and the Beast.” This one doesn’t really break any new ground, but it was enjoyable to read. Like many retellings, Belle isn’t a great beauty. Her sisters aren’t snotty, horrible human beings. I think the beautiful and good sister with the not-so-beautiful snotty sisters may be too shallow a dynamic to survive novel length. Like many retellings, the hardship proves to the family that they had their priorities all screwed up. Even when their fortunes change back, they stay with a more modest lifestyle.
The joy of a retelling like this is the way that the magical castle of the Beast comes to life with history, details, and so on. In the end, it’s one of Belle’s gifts that saves her and the Beast—she’s a gifted wood carver, with an almost magical aspect to it. The wood speaks to her, revealing what it wants to be. Eventually she learns to hear what the wood of a magical tree is telling her, thus breaking the spell.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Belle is particularly close to her father, but the whole family is pretty healthy. As they face hardship together, they each find their own strengths. It turns out that their mother has a spine of iron, able to hold everything together when others expected she would crumble. Celeste—the oldest sister—channels her cleverness into a love of cooking. April—the middle sister—actually enjoys the cleaning and other indoor chores. Belle joins her father outdoors, mending things and planting gardens.
Celeste sometimes says rude things, but she supports and stands up for her sisters, even when it hurts. Belle, of course, is prepared to sacrifice everything for her family.
Having been given a name that means “beauty,” Belle struggles with the idea of Beauty vs. beauty. She knows she’s pretty enough, but she’s certain that her sisters are both more beautiful than she is. She feels completely—almost literally—invisible when she stands between them, like the combined overlapping auras of their Beauty block her from sight. She tries to figure out what makes her sisters have Beauty and decides that it has to be a quality that’s both internal and external.
Belle is shy and awkward, so she stays out of the social scene as much as she can. She learns that she’s gained the reputation of being a stunning beauty, kept out of sight by protective parents. She’s just as happy when they have to move to the country because she knows she can’t live up to that kind of reputation.
In the end, she realizes that Beauty is honesty, being open to who you truly are and not who others expect you to be. It’s only out of the eyes of society that Belle and her family can all become who they truly are.
Belle’s father rose up through hard work until he owned a whole line of ships. When his middle daughter falls in love with one of the captains, he doesn’t give either of them grief about that. He honors his own social mobility by enabling others to have the same benefits.
It’s Cameron Dokey, it’s a fairytale retelling, it has good lessons that tweens should take to heart. Of course I recommend it. I don’t have much to say about it, though, because it’s a fairly typical and straight forward retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” Honestly, if you’re only going to read one retelling of this story, I’d have to suggest Beauty by Robin Mckinley (I really need to reread that). But there’s no reason to skip this one if you’re reading as many good fairytale retellings as you can!