year of the beasts

The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci and Nate Powell

Told in chapters that alternate Castellucci’s writing with Powell’s graphics, this is the story of two sisters.  When the summer carnival comes to town, Tessa, her younger sister Lulu and her best friend Celina get to go to the carnival without their parents for the first time.  After meeting up with a group of boys they know, the three girls and the boys head to the sideshow tent with its darkness and opportunities.  But Tessa’s plans don’t quite work out, and the boy she has a crush on, Charlie, ends up entering the tent with Lulu instead.  Tessa is left to go in with Jasper, a boy who is known as a strange loner.  When they exit, Tess has rebuffed Jasper’s attempts to kiss her, but something has obviously happened between Charlie and Lulu that has sealed them together as a couple.  Now Tessa has to deal with her jealousies and their dark results.

Castellucci’s prose is lush and wild.  The emotions in the book sizzle, coming right off the page.  On page 97, there is a great example of this:

If there were such a thing as a dark cloud over someone’s head, Tessa had one.  It was a stormy little thing.  With hail and lightning and thunder.  And no silver lining.

She explores the feelings of confusing lust and potential love, the ability for those same feelings to alienate and discourage, and the intensity of sisterhood.  The book is character-driven with Tessa at its center in all of her confusion, desperation to not be jealous, and constantly feeling as if she is second best.  There are no easy answers here, nothing is let go of easily, and emotions twist and turn.  It is a beautiful storm of a book.

Then you have the other chapters done in graphic novel format that show Tessa as Medusa with her nest of snake hair.  The graphic portion moves along in advance of the text portion, foreshadowing things that are yet to come.  Medusa finds that her school is also filled with other monsters, her best friend is a mermaid, and Charlie is a centaur.  She has turned her parents to stone with her gaze and now must live with the consequences of that unless she is able to reawaken as a human again. 

The pairing of these two makes this book even more original and powerful.  It also makes the book much more welcoming for reluctant readers or those who have discovered Castellucci through her graphic novels. 

An emotional ride of a teen novel done with beauty and power, this book has an innate appeal thanks to its graphic novel portion and the dynamic writing.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.