by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Let me start off by saying that this book has nothing to do with that Kirsten Dunst movie of the same name. This Crazy Beautiful is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast; in this case, those two titular adjectives describe how other people see the two main characters.
Crazy Beautiful is told in alternating first-person points of view. Had I known it was also told using present-tense narration, I might have skipped it. But for some reason, it didn't bother me that much in this case. The writing flowed fairly well. Maybe that was because it had a stream-of-consciousness style to it that didn't really require perfect grammar to be intelligible.
Lucius Wolfe is the "crazy" part of the title, a 15-year-old who managed to blow off his arms in an explosion. I liked Lucius as a narrator. He had an interesting mix of self-pity and acceptance. Unfortunately, he confused me early on (page 2!) when he described himself, making mention of where his elbows "should be". From what I can tell after reading the whole book, Lucius only lost the lower parts of his arms, so this early description threw me. I spent much of the book wondering how on earth an above-elbow amputee did things like spike a volleyball and do laundry. I also thought his explanation of the explosion was incomplete. Yes, he told us what happened. But his explanation of why wasn't good enough. I thought there must be more to it, some earth-shattering secret motivation for Lucius doing what he did... but there wasn't. And since this "why" played an important role at one point in the story, not having a better explanation made this part of the plot seem somewhat unrealistic.
Aurora Belle is (obviously) the "beautiful" in the title. Like Lucius, she's also a new student at their high school. Unlike Lucius, she makes friends easily... probably because she's just so darn perfect. Aurora drove me nuts. She was boring. She was so "practically perfect in every way" that her name really should have been Mary Poppins. I didn't enjoy her sections of the narrative, and I don't think they were necessary. Lucius was a far more interesting character, and I think the book could have been told entirely from his point of view without losing anything. All we learned from Aurora's narratives was that she felt an attraction to Lucius when nobody else did. But since we know that this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, we already know that this character is supposed to feel that way... and so telling the story from Aurora's point of view became kind of unnecessary.
Ultimately, the fact that this book is a fairy tale retelling is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. For example, I'm willing to somewhat overlook the fact that Aurora is so perfect; because she's essentially Belle, she's supposed to be stunningly beautiful and kind to everyone (even though this seems a bit out of place in the setting of a modern-day high school). So the slightly unrealistic characters I can forgive. But as for the plot... At times, it seemed to suffer from trying to fit into the mold that had already been established by the original fairy tale. There were parts that seemed forced. And on the other hand, the parts where the author did deviate from the fairy tale seemed contrived. I didn't buy the ending at all. The author set up an ending (one that would have followed the mold of the fairy tale) but then didn't seem to have enough courage to follow through. What did happen felt contrived and incomplete: a cop-out, really.
I'm not sure if I would recommend this book. I enjoyed it in the beginning, but as the story went on, I just found too many problems. The ending was a disappointment, and felt rushed. It's too bad, because I feel like there was potential here. If the author hadn't tried so hard to fit the story into the Beauty and the Beast mold, it might have worked. But this odd mix of unrealistic (bordering on stereotyped) characters, weak motivations, and harsh realities didn't really work for me.
Overall: 2.8 out of 5