Author: Brie Spangler
Publisher: Knopf Books
Length: 305 Pages
Category: Young Adult/Teen Fiction
At a Glance: One of the best YA trans stories I’ve read all year.
Reviewed By: Ben
Blurb: Tall, meaty, muscle-bound, and hairier than most throw rugs, Dylan doesn’t look like your average fifteen-year-old, so, naturally, high school has not been kind to him. To make matters worse, on the day his school bans hats (his preferred camouflage), Dylan goes up on his roof only to fall and wake up in the hospital with a broken leg—and a mandate to attend group therapy for self-harmers.
Dylan vows to say nothing and zones out at therapy—until he meets Jamie. She’s funny, smart, and so stunning, even his womanizing best friend, JP, would be jealous. She’s also the first person to ever call Dylan out on his self-pitying and superficiality. As Jamie’s humanity and wisdom begin to rub off on Dylan, they become more than just friends. But there is something Dylan doesn’t know about Jamie, something she shared with the group the day he wasn’t listening. Something that shouldn’t change a thing. She is who she’s always been—an amazing photographer and devoted friend, who also happens to be transgender. But will Dylan see it that way?
Review: Let me just say this, because apparently there was some confusion among quite a few readers who picked up this story: this is not a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I’m sorry if you thought so, but not everything with a tall, ugly dude and the word ‘beast’ in the title is about Belle and the manbearpig. Sure, it has some similarities. The beast, or Dylan, is a tall, hairy, and (he thinks) ugly teenager, who has some serious self-esteem and anger issues. But that’s where the similarities end. Dylan’s fifteen and doesn’t have a prince’s privilege. His father was lost to cancer and his mother struggles to put enough food on the table.
At school Dylan is mocked constantly and kept in his place by a veiled group effort, but everyone’s too afraid of him to outright gang up on him. His best friend is the school’s most popular boy, but even he has some serious problems (and is probably sociopathic). When the school bans hats, Dylan falls off the roof and ends up in the hospital and enrolled into a self-harm group therapy session—where he meets Jamie.
Jamie forces Dylan to confront his dysphoria, and something about her frankness, quirky sense of fun, and down-to-earth approach has him head over heels, but not in a falling-off-the-roof kinda way.
The blurb does reveal Jamie is trans, so I’m less inclined to be huffy about the revelation of her transness being a main plot point. To be honest, we spend only a miniscule amount of time focused on Jamie and her experiences. Most of the plot revolves around Dylan: his body dysphoria, his teenage mood swings, and his anger issues. Jamie just happened into his life at the right (and wrong) moment. She also ends up being the most normal person in the entire book.
I was extremely disappointed in Dylan’s best friend and Dylan’s mom. They were pretty horrible people—in a lot of ways—but made to be sympathetic in the story. Yes, I could understand their motivations, but they ultimately hurt Dylan and hindered his growth.
Dylan’s mom was overbearing and even flat out lied to Dylan. My own mother has lied to me in such a manner before, and that’s something you never forget (even with hindsight), no matter how well intentioned your parents are. But she is right in one thing: Dylan looks just like his dad.
A lot of Dylan’s issues have to do with his deceased father, who died when he was two-years old. We quickly get the idea that if Dylan’s dad were still alive, none of Dylan’s problems would be relevant. A glimpse of his ideal family life: not struggling for money, the house would have been worked on, and most importantly, Dylan would have had a role model, someone who looked just like him. He wouldn’t have felt so alone.
But sometimes you roll the black dice.
The real win for me in this story was the voice. Dylan’s voice was intimate and felt completely like a fifteen-year old boy to me. He was thoughtful and quirky and angry, and despite his pain he had a decent sense of humor. This novel did have an emerging relationship, but I wouldn’t call it a Romance. Most of the important issues didn’t have to do with Dylan and Jamie at all. I did feel a bit sorry for Jamie—what does she get out of this mess of a boy?—but she was exactly the right person to help him. Eventually, Dylan realizes he may not be able to ‘cure’ his ugliness on the outside, but he can work on his inner ugliness. Some people never figure that one out.
I’d be very much interested in a glimpse of his college years.
You can buy Beast here: