Fifteen-year-old Isabelle Scott loves her life by the boardwalk on the supposed wrong side of the tracks in North Carolina. But when tragedy strikes, a social worker sends her to live with a long-lost uncle and his preppy privileged family. Isabelle is taken away from everything she's ever known, and, unfortunately, inserting her into the glamorous lifestyle of Emerald Cove doesn't go so well. Her cousin Mirabelle Monroe isn't thrilled to share her life with an outsider, and, in addition to dealing with all the rumors and backstabbing that lurk beneath their classmates' Southern charm, a secret is unfolding that will change both girls' lives forever. ~From GoodReads
Gossip Girl meets Mean Girls, in the South.
I think it's a universal truth that 99.9% of all kids have a fantasy: One day they will be whisked away from their drab, parent-addled life into a world filled with clothes, money, new cars...you get the idea. Back when I was a kid, I hoped my "real parents" were a king and queen. These days, I think kids will settle for unlimited texting and a bottomless iTunes account.
But not Isabelle "Izzy" Scott. She's happy with her life on the wrong side of the tracks. She doesn't even mind the run down home she lives in, or the fact that her only family after her mother's death is her increasingly forgetful grandmother. She has her friends, including the adorable yet mysterious Brayden, her school, her beach. This life is her's and she wouldn't trade it for anything.
So when her grandmother, in a lucid state, has her sent to previously unknown family, Izzy's world is shattered. Who wants the glam life where people treat you like a charity case, act like your a criminal because of your upbringing, or act like you don't deserve to be there? Where your perfect new "cousin" is one of the mean girls trying to bring you down? And what will Izzy do when she finds a face from her old life and learns long-hidden truths about her background?
There was so much that I adored about BELLES.. I love the premise of a girl being offered the good life, and seeing how she responds. Izzy was determined, yet vulnerable. It would be so easy to slip like a warm glove into the new world she's offered. I mean, who doesn't want the best money can offer? But she is determined to remain the same girl she was before.
BELLES is also told from Izzy's new cousin, Mira's, point of view. The alternating points of view really helped keep me from completely hating Mira. Without knowing what she's actually feeling, she could have become a heartless, spineless brat. It was nice to see her vulnerabilites, even though I was never on her "side".
There are some nice dramatic bits to the story, usually courtesy of the Mean Girls, lead by the awful Savannah. This girl was a pill, without becoming a caricature. If I could have climbed into the story and throttle her myself, I would have. Thank goodness I never had to face girls like this back in school. I would have been in the principal's office, or at the police station, on a regular basis.
Another dramatic turn comes fairly soon after Izzy moves. In the interest of not spoiling the story, my lips are sealed. But it was a nice surprise I didn't see coming at all. It upped the "WTF Factor" in Izzy's world and totally made me love this story so, so much.
My only small complaint would be that the BIG revelation came too late in the story. This was something I figured out pretty quickly and waited the entire book for the bomb to drop. I would have liked to have seen more of the fallout, but with book two coming this Fall, I don't have to wait long to find out what happens next.
All in all, I really, really enjoyed this book. Author Jen Calonita's writing flows flawlessly, making it an easy, fast read. If you're a fan of Contemporary Young Adult with healthy doses of drama and heart, BELLES should be a great fit.
"She'd lived here for her whole life and she had half an hour to put her world in a duffel bag and say goodbye?" (pg. 29, ARC)
Hardcover, 356 pages
Expected publication: April 10th 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
You can preorder BELLES at:
Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Book Depository
Source: Received for an ARC tour hosted by Southern Book Bloggers.