Book Review: The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci

For as long as they can remember, Tess and her younger sister Lulu have gone to the carnival.  Summers mean the trucks roll in and bring the delights of the carnival to their town.  This year, both girls are finally old enough to attend unchaperoned.  This means they can experience the carnival in a new way, and that means they can experience the carnival with boys.  But with these new experiences comes new jealousies, and the girls are about to experience a summer that will end in tragedy and forever alter the lives of everyone involved.

There are actually two stories at work in Castellucci’s novel: the story of the sisters, told through prose, and a retelling of the mythology of Medusa, told through comic/graphic novel format.  While the stories eventually converge, this is a jarring transition, and many readers will struggle to make sense of what is happening on the page.

Part of the problem with the dual narration is the fact that one of the stories is so much stronger than the other.  The story of Tess and Lulu is so much more powerful and emotionally resonant than the Medusa storyline, and yet it gets swallowed up by the mythology.  The exploration of jealousy and being lost in a sibling’s shadow would have been plenty for this slim novel, and yet it seems as though Castellucci wasn’t willing to let it stand on its own.

All that being said, Castellucci is a talented writer.  Readers will race through this one to see how it ends (it’s fairly predictable yet oddly compelling), or they’ll tear through it because they don’t quite understand what’s happening.  Either way, it’s likely this one will see most of its readers through to the end.

The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci. Roaring Brook Press: 2012. Read for 2012 Cybils Round 1 Panel.