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Today I am going to be reviewing The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. There’s a lot for me to unpack with this book. On one hand, I loved this new lush world full of intrigue and politics. On the other, there were certain times where I was flat out bored and uninterested in the storyline, who Clayton managed to have both of those juxtaposing levels of interest is a mystery to me. I will say that once I sat down to finish the last 200 pages or so, I realized how much I loved what was going on. The way to truly read this book and to enjoy it is to go in not expecting a masterpiece. Take this book for what it is, a solid first book that more than anything, was meant to do the work needed to create a mind-blowing sequel.

The writing style was definitely descriptive. All of the similes and metaphors were relatively unique and the poetic phrasing cast a dignified tone that complimented what was going on. How you’ll take to this kind of style really depends on your taste. For me, the constant description of everything became forced towards the end. I know there will be others who have no problem with that kind of description.

The pacing was slightly off in the beginning. Certain parts stretched on too long, making me borderline bored. However, it was very clear that once to book hit its stride, that was no longer a problem. The book was still paced slower than most YA books, although strangely enough, that allowed for a more cumulative buildup of suspense that made the climax unbearable. I couldn’t wait to figure out what happened. The combination between the slow pacing and the high levels of suspense is unusual for the genre, but I’m not complaining. It worked well for what the author wanted to do with this story.

The world this novel is set in is confusing at first. I found it hard to get my bearings since Clayton took an interesting approach to world building. Rather than having thick exposition bog down the first couple of chapters, she chose to lightly explain the things that were only important to understanding a specific moment, and would leave the rest to explain later. It’s an interesting strategy that depends on the reader being patient enough to stick with the book even when it’s difficult to understand. I appreciated the choice, since by then I was already glued to the page and wouldn’t have considered abandoning the book.

There were huge differences in character development. Some characters were fleshed out beautifully with complete, relatable story arcs. Others changed without any explanation, running any connection I once had with them. When a character suddenly developed, it was like I didn’t recognize him/her anymore and all the work Clayton did to set up the character initially was negated.

The romance was really frustrating. There was practically electric chemistry between the romantic leads, yet there was never any concrete development that would allow me to believe they were in love. I can believe that they liked each other, which is enough to start a relationship. I don’t know why YA authors think characters need to be in love with each other before even making a move in the relationship. Especially considering that our heroine had barely interacted with a boy her age up until a couple of weeks before. There’s no way I’m buying that based on a couple of witty conversations. They didn’t even know each other.

Without spoiling anything, I will say there was a pretty cheap plot twist towards the end. I should have seen it coming a mile away. It was cliche and despite knowing that I have seen the same exact thing happen in several YA books, I was still heartbroken, showing the strength of Clayton’s writing. Something that would normally make me gag in books still heavily impacted me.

What I found most compelling about this book was how the author dealt with the concept of beauty. Clayton created a world in which beauty is both valued in an archaic and progressive way at the same time. She plays with this dynamic between the old and the new, providing direct comparisons to our own world without being overly preachy. I spent a lot of time thinking critically about my own perceptions of beauty and the empowering ideas promoted by the book during the read and after, which is what a good book should really do. It should allow you to grow as a person and reexamine your personal status quo. Despite all of the (minor) flaws this book has, I would recommend it to anyone solely to spread the deep messages subtly ingrained in the world.

The ending was fantastic! It was a cliffhanger if I have ever read one. I have been consumed with thoughts of the sequel and am dying to get my hands on it. This was not the kind of cliffhanger that left me feeling depressed/book hungover. This was the kind that satisfactorily ended this book and fueled me with the energy to take on the next book. It’s refreshing to see that in a genre that often sells sequels by cutting off first books too soon.

Believe the hype around this book, because it definitely deserves it. This was by no means perfect, it was enjoyable, thought-provoking, and worth 4 stars. This book was for Clayton to get her footing in this new world. I’m confident that after such a strong showing with The Belles, the next book will be on a whole other level.

Thank you for reading my review and I hope you will join me again as we go off to amazing places.

Aashna Moorjani
Aashna Moorjani is a sophomore (18-19) at Millburn High School and the Website Administrator for Studio 462.