Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
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The cover of The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton is Barbie Dreamhouse pink, with sparkles and roses adorning the cover. Inside is a map of the fictional island setting, beautifully detailed in hot pink and white. On the front of the cover is a beautiful girl (although her eyebrows are a little scary) in fancy dress with a sultry expression. Okay, so I can’t say I’m a fan of the girl’s look on the cover, but, overall, I believe that this cover perfectly reflects the tone of the novel. It’s ornate, and so, so pink, enough to make me slightly uncomfortable picking up the book. Yet this was one of the factors that drew me to the novel, the sheer audacity of all that hot pink in anything but a middle grade novel about popularity and hot crushes. Yet, in a YA that professed to be about the dark side of beauty, the cover, and its choice to be so glaringly, overwhelmingly pink and flowery felt almost like a dare.
So I gave The Belles a read. And kept reading. I finished this book in less than a day, all 434 pages. It was flowery. It was ornate. And it was dark.
Now here was how I expected it to go. The protagonist Camellia can make people beautiful, and everything seems hunky dory. Then soon she realizes that people will do anything to look beautiful, and that the whole idea of the rich being able to pay for beauty while the poor are ugly totally sucks, and then someone tries to kill/kidnap for beauty as people do, and she joins some sort of government overthrowing organization, and book one ends the way all these sorts of books do; with her leaving the only home she’s ever known to go fight the system/ corrupt government. Well…not exactly. This book was about the dark side of beauty, that’s true, but it didn’t caricaturize, it didn’t make things unbelievably horrible to shock readers. Instead, the novel examined the corruption of beauty from a mental health/body dysmorphia way. Which, honestly, was a great choice and probably the more realistic one anyway. When you’re surrounded by peers who can pay to look any way they want (minus basic bone structure) and you live in a society where beauty is the ultimate status symbol, of course it’s going to mess you up.
In fact, the author states at the end of the book, that her inspiration for writing The Belles came from her unhealthy obsession with looks at age 12, cultivated from the pressures around her to have the perfect face, the perfect body, the perfect hair. She wrote a fantastical version of the darkness that lived inside her as a teen, and that darkness, along with very good writing, is what gives this story it’s richness, and its power.The world of The Belles is very satisfying. It’s so clearly based on the culture of New Orleans, based on the name, the landscape, and all the French. Reading this book, the power to create beauty became something I craved, not for the control, but for the sheer creativity it provided. There are so many scenes in which Camellia uses her creativity to alter her clients like living canvasses, and it sounds like so much fun. For example, at one point Camellia uses the way light shines to create the perfect shade and gradient of blonde. Each one of her creations are different than the last, like living works of art.
Okay, if I’m going to be honest here, the plot was actually fairly predictable. The bad guys were easy to spot, the surprises and twists not very surprisy or twisty. And normally, that would be a pretty big deal-breaker in a book. However, with The Belles, the story was more about the journey than the payoff. Any book that sticks in your head days after you read it, no matter how predictable, are well worth the read. So sit back, grab a hot chocolate, spike it with some Baileys if over 21, and enjoy this engrossing novel.