Fifteen-year-old Isabelle Scott loves her life by the boardwalk on the supposed wrong side of the tracks in North Carolina. But when tragedy strikes, a social worker sends her to live with a long-lost uncle and his preppy privileged family. Isabelle is taken away from everything she's ever known, and, unfortunately, inserting her into the glamorous lifestyle of Emerald Cove doesn't go so well. Her cousin Mirabelle Monroe isn't thrilled to share her life with an outsider, and, in addition to dealing with all the rumors and backstabbing that lurk beneath their classmates' Southern charm, a secret is unfolding that will change both girls' lives forever. Don't miss the first book in the Belles trilogy by Jen Calonita.
Review: Jen Calonita has a way of getting into your head and making her books can’t-put-down-ers. Belles is no exception.
While the premise is a predictable fish-out-of-water story (poor girl suddenly gets rich and has to deal with snobby people), Calonita never lets that stop her from creating a rich characters or a world that is easy to believe in. Izzie and Mira feel real even if the Emerald Cove world that they live in is a fantasy for most people. Izzie is smart, determined and fights for what she wants. Mira is smart, sweet, and a little confused about her life. They feel like people I knew in high school.
What I loved about this book was that it was never overly cliched. Sure, the story is familiar, and the reactions are predictable, but Izzie is never the hero of the story who totally changes Mira’s life. Similarly, Mira is not a complete airhead who treats Izzie horribly. There are moments when these archetypes exist – Izzie does stand up to Mira’s best friend, Queen Bee Savannah, and Mira does insult Izzie behind her back. But Izzie isn’t perfect. She’s not incredibly friendly, and she fully admits to enjoying some of the perks of her new life, even as she’s feeling guilty for loving them. When she goes back to Harborside to visit her old friends, she realizes that she idealized Harborside a bit – she doesn’t want to spend all of her time hanging out on the boardwalk doing nothing anymore. She wants more from her life, and that’s hard for both her and her old friends to realize.
Mira, meanwhile, is someone used to being a yes-girl – unable to say no to Savannah or her meathead boyfriend Taylor. But she has a secret passion for art that is spurred on by an art teacher, and her realization that maybe she doesn’t want to be that yes-girl any longer. Izzie doesn’t change that. Rather, Mira takes control of her life by herself, and proves to be a great asset to Izzie in the end.
I think the devil is in the details for this book. I wouldn’t say that the writing itself is spectacular, but Calonita has imagined the two worlds of Harborside and Emerald Cove so well that it’s hard not to get taken in. You want both Izzie and Mira to succeed, and you recognize the inadequacies of both the heroes and the villains of the book. For me, Belles works because of the strongly drawn characters and the vibrant wold. If Calonita wanted this to be The O.C. meets Gossip Girl, she definitely succeeded.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars