Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon
Published: 1st May 2011 (UK)
Publisher: Usborne (UK)
Description from Goodreads:
At Gottfried Academy, just one kiss will take your breath away. After Renee discovers her parents dead in what appears to be a strange double murder, she is sent to Gottfried Academy, a remote and mysterious high school dedicated to philosophy, 'crude sciences', and Latin: the Language of the Dead. Here she meets Dante, a dark and elusive student who harbors a deadly secret, but to whom she feels inexplicably drawn. Despite himself, Dante cannot control his attraction to Renee either and their desires gradually deepen into a complex and dangerous romance. But Dante's not the only one with secrets...Gottfried Academy has a few of its own. When Renee begins to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a former student, she begins to realize just how deadly these secrets are...Dark romance meets haunting murder mystery in this captivating tale of love, death and destiny
I'm so, so conflicted by this novel. I'm going to review it normally and then I will tell you what really, really put me off. And then you'll probably laugh at me for being ridiculous, but here we go.
Renee stumbles across the bodies of her parents by what seems like coincidence on her 16th birthday. It's a pretty terrible thing to happen to anyone, especially on a birthday, and with the suspicious circumstances of their death it's even worse for Renee. No one else believes there could be something else to their death other than Renee (despite what the synopsis may tell you) and in short order she's shipped off to an exclusive and mysterious boarding school on the opposite side of the country.
Renee dealt with the grief over her parents in a perfectly acceptable way. She wasn't too whiny, so as you got annoyed, but she wasn't too stoic so as you felt she was a heartless cow. She meets her roomate, Eleanor, whom she gets along with fairly well but none of this instant "omgggg we're like, totally the best of friends everrr"stuff which seems to happen ALOT in YA. It's nice, but far from realistic. Then, at the school assembly she meets Dante. I love the way they meet, it's hilarious. Except Dante's comment *is* innaccurate *coughs* more on that later.
Lets move on to Dante shall we? Firstly, I liked his name. I like to think the Berlin surname came from the philosopher who wrote about freedom...which would be kinda ironic...but maybe I'm giving the author too much credit here. A lot of people have commented he was very Edward Cullen-like and yes, that is true. There *are* genuine, plot-significant reasons for this, which you'll appreciate once you read it, but I agree it did seem like Woon was trying to make him as Edward Cullen like as possible, what with the cold skin and the aloofness and the unwillingness to kiss Renee...but lets be serious here for a minute okay? Firstly, the science class thing. It's pretty much the only massively interactive class, so if you're gonna have your protags thrown together and forced to interact in a school-setting it's one of the easiest ways to do it. Secondly, LOTS of main characters have cold skin, for various reasons. Hell, I have cold skin, I have bad circulation. It annoys me that these perfectly valid literary devices can no longer be used just cause Stephenie Meyer unfortunately put them in her novel, which, is ONLY 5 YEARS OLD! It's not like she wrote it over a decade ago and people are copying her. It's still a fairly new novel, give people a break, guys.
*takes a deep breath* so, I usually try to forgive twilight-esque moments if they're pertinent to the plot, like these were. Plotwise, I really enjoy it when an author gives little (and not so little) hints at what's going on without expressly saying it. You think you've figured it out, but you can't be SURE until it's actually written down. I really enjoy that. Some people don't, but for me, it's good writing. It makes me really, really want to know what's going on. Even if the rest of the book is rubbish, or it turns out to be a massive disappointment, it still makes me read the book. I disliked most of the classes they took, however. It felt like the author couldn't really be bothered to do her research properly, so she just sorta name-dropped some people and some books etc. You never actually saw what they were learning...am I being ridiculous? maybe. but when you write a book that has elements of philosophy/mythology/classics in it you've gotta be prepared for the inevitability that someone who knows a bit about those subjects/has an interest in them will read your novel. For me, Woon failed on this front. Either cus she couldn't be bothered, or felt it wasn't necessary, or thought everyone who reads YA is stupid and wouldn't pick up on it. Whatever the reason, it was a bad move. I liked the horticulture class though, that was awesome.
Aside from Dante and Renee, I really liked most of the other characters. I loved her friend Nathaniel, though I expected something different for him than what actually happened. I did like Eleanor, and I felt sorry for her severely. I loved the creepy latin-loves like Gideon etc, they were great characters. The only ones I didn't really like were the headmistress, who creeped me out, and Brett, who I mistrusted.
Okay, I'm just gonna skip onto what annoyed me, cus I'm very conscious this review is gonna be a novel in itself otherwise. Basically, the whole 'theory' that was the main point of the book was ascribed too....Descartes. Yes, I do mean Rene Descartes the sceptical philosopher. The very same sceptical philosopher who said we couldn't even be sure if WE existed, let alone this outlandish, mythological claim Woon created. She even went so far as to say he wrote a SEVENTH meditation. She also kept calling them metaphysical meditations, which annoyed me cus they're more commonly known as The Meditations on First Philosophy, she was obviously just using that name to make it sound more enigmatic. But anyway Descartes would never EVER believe the premise of this book, let alone write his own book on it and claim it to be true. NEVER! and WHYYY couldn't the author just MAKE SOMEONE UP to come up with this theory?? WHY did she have to decide it needed to be a person who ACTUALLY existed and someone for who this theory would be so ridiculous. It would honestly be like writing that Jesus believed in white supremacy or something. It just would never happen. Now I know I only picked up on this cus I do philosophy, but it really really angered me, and actually ruined the book for me if I'm honest.
So, with this ridiculous insert the book gets 2/5. Without it, it genuinely would have gotten a 4/5.
I'm angry at you, Yvonne Woon. Really angry.