The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton Review by Alexandra Cornejo
Mentally rich and decadent — this is how I would describe The Belles. I listened to The Belles on Audible with Rosie Jones (@rosiejonesactor) as the narrator. She did a wonderful job at her narration, which makes all the difference. Her English accent added such an elegant air to an exquisitely written book. However, I did find her reading pace a bit slow due to her immaculate enunciation, so I sped the audio book up to 1.25x, which was perfect. My 30 minute commute to and from work was something I Iooked forward to everyday, because I was going to listen to The Belles!
I enjoyed this book very much! The realization that I really liked it came toward the last third of the book, though. The first two thirds were good, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t become a real page turner in the last third. What requires the most applause for Dhonielle Clayton’s work was the imagery she used to create this fantasy world of Orleans. She created a world full of color, beauty, and emotion. Words and phrases like “pink and yellow macarons,” “pastel colored dresses,” “complexion of lilies and belle-rose lips,” “drizzles of honey” and the like, are heavily sprinkled throughout this book. If it was possible to read a dessert and be satisfied as if you ate it, this is the book that did just that for me! Dhonielle whisked me away to a beautiful world where the book cover model served as a baseline for the Belle beauty found in the setting of Orleans. Her words drew up a masterpiece of art in my mind. And let me just draw attention to the lovely Belle names… Camellia, Ambrosia, Padma, Edelweiss,..Wow!
The story was so unique! Belles having control over making people beautiful, but not really having any power over themselves or their lives was intriguing. The monarchy and the laws suppress their freedoms in the guise of protecting them. Camellia, our protagonist, was a great character laced with ambition, talent, originality, and a hint of rebellion. Her growing contempt for the obsession Orleans has for beauty makes her character strong and admirable. The love she has for her sisters makes her endearing, and the fact that Belles cannot experience a romantic love is heartbreaking and ironic, given their irresistible appearance. Our antagonist, Princess Sofia, is formidable and hate-worthy with the torment she bestows on hr court. Beware of those who defy her. They end up with a pig snout! Yes, she scared the living daylights out of me with her cruelty, and the tension she caused within a simple conversation with Camellia made my palms sweat. Princess Sofia’s dangerous obsession with beauty and utter dominance over the people around her makes this story very entertaining and nerve-racking.
The theme of beauty obsession had me reflect constantly on the state of affairs we find ourselves today. What I loved about Camellia, was her preference to always let her patron’s natural features shine. She encouraged curves and shapely figures, and she attempted to convince her patrons that imperfections compliment personality. She warned against unnatural beauty requests because of the harm they caused to the body. I began to research today’s real obsession with beauty and I found the following information to be deeply disturbing:
According to the National Institute on Media and Family via the University of Washington, in a survey taken by girls 9 and 10 years old, 40 percent of them have tried to lose weight and by “age thirteen, 53% of American girls are ‘unhappy with their bodies.’ This grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen.”
Dhonielle has done a phenomenal job of including these disturbing trends of self-disapproval into her novel. Camellia’s patrons desire dangerously small waists and breasts that are too large. She warns them of the risks, but her warnings fall on deaf ears. I am very grateful for the attention the author brings to the very important issue of beauty obsession. Young girls will find an important lesson here.
The cliffhanger was fantastic and unbelievably frustrating, as I would give my right arm for book two! I originally thought this was a stand-alone novel, but I’m elated that it will be a trilogy; I am definitely not done with The Belles and the world of Orleans.
Hosain, Anna. “Constructed Beauty and Our Obsession With Image.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 19 Feb. 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anna-hosain/constructed-beauty-and-ou_b_4809399.html.
Alexandra Cornejo is a high school librarian at a specialty school for future health professionals in the Rio Grande Valley. Her drive is to motivate her students to be passionate readers and responsible digital citizens. She is an enthusiast for young adult literature, education technology, and instructional design, and can often be found on edtech Twitter chats. You can find her on Twitter @allie_cornejo, Instagram @YAlitenthusiast or her YA Review blog https://sites.google.com/view/yalittech/home