Amanda Gernentz Hanson
LGBTQIA , New Adult
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In Something Beautiful, Cordelia and Declan have been best friends since they were three years old. By the time they hit middle school, Cordelia—Cord, to Declan—is already feeling the blackness in her life as depression takes hold. Their mutual attraction to each other leads to a serious high school relationship, one with their foundation of friendship at the forefront. Cordelia seems to have her mental health under control. All appears to be well.
However, when Declan starts to accept his own fluid sexuality, it sets something in motion in their lives that is both beautiful and tragic as they learn to love each other for who they are.
It sounds great, right?
I always thought that Something Beautiful sounded so good when I asked for an ARC, but the instant I started reading I began getting The Funeral Flower flashbacks. It’s the story of a girl that revolves around the men in her life, but has some cringe-worthy additions to the normal formula.
For instance, Declan is gay. Or, at least, he says he’s gay even though he’s very clearly attracted to at least one woman. There’s a strange insistence on him being “gay” rather than any other sexuality and while there are some attempts to soften or blur the lines between binary sexualities…. It’s not done often enough.
There’s also suicide in this book as well as mentions of self-harm which was incredibly uncomfortable.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that those issues shouldn’t be addressed in fiction. But, they need to be addressed carefully and treated with the proper respect. For as much importance as Something Beautiful seemed to put on mental health and suicidal tendencies, these tendencies only flared up when the plot required it. They weren’t core parts of any character’s personality. Instead they were more like accessories that could be taken on and off.
I couldn’t tell while I was reading if the author had experience, but didn’t handle it well in fiction or just didn’t know how these things worked.
There’s even a point where a straight woman lectures a gay man on the nature of sexuality and desire which could have and should have been this amazing moment. There is still an issue with biphobia and bi-erasure within the LGBT community and to have one of the main characters tackling that head on would have been all I needed to bump Something Beautiful up another star.
But instead, it just fell flat.
Before I end this on a total down note, let’s talk about some things that I liked:
- Cordelia’s father says something homophobic and is immediately chastised by his family for it.
- He later apologizes.
- A+ for calling out boys and their slobber kisses
- I was distracted this entire novel thinking that it didn’t make sense that Declan and his brother
- Finn had Irish names, but their last name was Scottish. They even said they spoke Gaelic which is obviously only Irish and I was going to point out the lack of research. And then when I went to do research of my own, I found out that there’s a lot of commonality and that Scottish Gaelic is a dialect so point to you, Amanda.
- The core of the story which is two people growing up and being accepting of each others flaws should have been my favourite story ever.
- There’s a positive message about inclusivity throughout the book.
Most of the issues within the book stem from what I’m going to start calling Drama Inflation. It’s when the stakes need to be continuously ramped up in order to maintain the tension because there’s nothing else anchoring the story.
If you want a good example, look at a soap opera. You start with someone cheating on his wife and end with a witch and her magical doll trying to end the world.
So in Something Beautiful we have one tragedy after another poured on top of each other without even giving us a moment to breathe and with no happy times to compare these tragic ones to. So it’s a roller coaster ride that doesn’t stop and is always upside down. It’s probably fun for the first five minutes, but you’re going to get sick sooner or later.
Plus all that blood rushing to your head can’t be good.
Ambitious and with a beautiful story at its core, it can’t maintain its balance.