The Lovely Paula told me the kind of books I ought to write: Young adult for males. After reading “Beautiful Creatures,” I completely agree. The book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl features a male lead narrator who deals with a supernatural female — a nice switch from “Twilight” and many other young-adult novels — but there’s nothing very male about him.
Which is disappointing, actually. I’ve had “Beautiful Creatures” on my to-read list for a while, ever since I spotted it as one of the next big book series to help ease the sting from losing Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. One of the reasons was for the male lead.
And he starts out pretty male. Ethan Wate, 16, is part of the in crowd, a power shooter on the basketball team, fresh off of dating one of the most popular girls in school. But when the girl he has seen in his dreams suddenly starts attending his school, he gets very intropsective, moody, attentive to his dreams, romantic and borderline emo.
In other words: He doesn’t quite act like a guy.
I give Garcia and Stohl credit for making their lead a guy, but this guy is neutered. “Beautiful Creatures” features the same type of “Twilight” chastity that makes all the characters seem like brainwashed, scrubbed avatars of some adult’s perfect world. As Wate sticks up for his girlfriend in the midst of an outright witch hunt, he acts like a woman’s idea of a perfect gentleman. Consider:
- During a scene where Ethan and Lena are wrapped together in a blanket, sharing a present and kissing for hours, he doesn’t once mention passion or the urge to do more.
- Ethan spent more time describing the differences between two fictional dress shops than he did describing how the girls looked in the dresses. When he does get around to noticing girls in dresses, he’s more of a cat than a dog.
- Ethan seems strangely resistant to Lena’s cousin, who happens to be a Siren.
- As the year progresses, details about how Ethan has been money on the basketball court are treated like afterthoughts. Not one game is depicted. Practices are barely covered. No talk about scoring, rival schools or game-day anticipation. Then about two-thirds through the book, Ethan quits the team because he feels excluded by his teammates, who are really just super-jealous of his witchy girlfriend, apparently.
- Not once in the book does Ethan deal with a natural part of being a teen guy surrounded by hot girls — or as Thea of The Book Smugglers says much better than me, he “never once does pop a stiffy or even think about sex.”
Those are all glaring character holes that make Ethan seem like some sort of mindless narrator golem, without a soul, passion or other emotional drives that make guys guys. I remember what it was like to be a teen boy, and though I diverted and didn’t act on my urges to get it on with girls who meant a lot to me, I still had those urges.
There’s other stuff in the book that’s pretty good. Wate describes a sleepy Southern town full of what makes the South the South, and the lushness of the scene makes it easy to feel Wate’s and Lena’s isolation. The explanation of the Casters is pretty decent, although it feels like there is way too much description and explanation at times.
But when push comes to shove, some of the bad guys fold too mysteriously. And the adults hide some pretty crucial information from Lena, who as it turns out, has a pretty big choice to make.
There’s two more books in the Caster chronicles, and I’ll probably read them. Granted, I’m not jonesing to scoop them up like I did “The Hunger Games,” but I’ll still finish them. Also, movies are on the way — the authors are stoked over who got cast as Ethan and Lena –so the stories should get even bigger. Hopefully the next two in the series and other future books address some of these not-so-manly holes.
In other words, it’s time for Ethan to nut up. And it’s time for me to start writing.