Belles (#1) by Jen Calonita ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: April 10, 2012
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: family secrets, mean girls, campaigns
Format read: Borrowed from library
Summary: Izzie and Mira couldn’t be more different. For years, Izzie has grown up in Harborside, hanging out at the Boardwalk, and working as a lifeguard while caring for her aging grandmother. Mira, the daughter of an ex-professional baseball player turned political hopeful, is part of the popular crew at school and has full access to her parents’ platinum credit card. When Izzie’s grandmother’s health declines, she finds out Mira is her cousin when she is taken in by her uncle. As the two girls continue to clash and struggle to find common ground, both are forced to be true to themselves – no matter how difficult that will be.
Girls can be such snots.
Jen Calonita writes this well; so well that I was seething over the treatment of Mira and her friends when it comes to Izzie. Didn’t they see that the girl felt ridiculously out of place without their help? Her mom died when she was 10, she never knew her dad, and her only known relative is losing her memory and is now in a nursing home. But no, these popular girls only knew how to use money and their good looks to their advantage and it drove me crazy.
Belles dives into a familiar Pretty in Pink stereotype – the rich, pretty girls vs. the ones from the wrong side of the tracks. The girls who thought they owned it all versus the ones who can’t catch a break. You can’t blame either side really. It’s just how the two were brought up, but really? What about decency!? And kindness!?
From the beginning, it’s obvious that Mira exists in this gray area except she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Her best friend, Savannah, is the queen bee and what she says goes. Or else she makes your life a living hell and Mira is not sure how to stand up to her. All these girls are so quick to judge and categorize everyone else because of their interests, their looks, or their bank accounts. Why people can’t like art and cheerleading… I have no idea. But in Mira’s world it’s hard to break out of this popular circle and maintain a decent reputation.
While Belles is predictable at times, Calonita makes Mira and Izzy’s situations feel fresh and the reader is able to get a true handle on each of their characters. You care about each of them, and root for the two to come together. Then there’s Brayden, a boy Izzy meets during the summer at home, and fits into her new life in the most unfortunate way. And oh, are these two just sort of perfect. Their chemistry is just brewing in their scenes together, and that makes it that sweeter. Bravo for some great supporting characters (Mira’s entire family and Izzy’s new friends) and some fleeting Disney references. (Like me, Calonita is a huge Disney fan!)
Belles feels part Cinderella story, part Mean Girls and it is oh-so good (especially when you reach the grand finale at the end). Best of all, the book can definitely live and breathe on its own and I prefer that when it comes to a piece of a series.
Winter White (Belles #2) by Jen Calonita ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: cotillion, family secrets/conflict, trust, town events
Format read: Hardcover sent to us from Hachette. (Thanks!)
Summary: Mira and Izzie are back dealing with the aftermath of the big grand finale from Book 1. The girls are closer than ever, but things aren’t looking good in other areas of their lives. Mira has been ostracized from her regular group of girlfriends, and Izzie’s friend Brayden is having a little trouble being honest about his friendship with her. When cotillion time pops up, a huge town event, Mira is psyched while Izzie is less than thrilled. With the introduction of Brayden’s sister, Dylan, life gets even more interesting when the girls involved in cotillion are forced to band together and let go during an initiation.
Despite a shaky beginning in Belles, Izzie and Mira make a really good set of friends. It’s not just their shared distrust in certain adults after that grand finale ending. Mira helps to lighten up Izzie and Izzie doesn’t allow Mira to back down and be stepped all over — in fact she knows she can be a leader too. When cotillion invitations show up for the two — an extravaganza of white bridal-like dresses, dance & etiquette classes, escorts — it’s no surprise they have different reactions. Mira has been dreaming of this event since she was a little girl, and Izzie can’t believe she’s excited for “just another party”. But Izzie acquiesces and Mira is pumped to be joining cotillion prep with someone by her side (since all her friends have ditched her).
You’d think all shopping, classes, and time with other girls would alleviate all the drama going on at home, but nope — it just adds to it. Apparently cotillion includes hazing! Nothing dangerous… don’t worry. But we are introduced to a new character, Dylan, an outcast in Emerald Cove (and Izzie’s love interest’s sister) who Izzie feels instantly simpatico with. Finally! Someone who was brought up in this ritzy place and doesn’t buy into all of it! I actually really liked all the “secret” activities planned for the girls involved in cotillion. It added a bit of a rush to the storyline, and also put a few of my favorite snotty characters in their place.
Calonita has released another light and speedy volume that bops around on various tides of drama. The core of these books is really sisterhood but I think the author misses out on many opportunities to forge other friendships from the first book. Even Dylan’s “disruptive” appearance in Emerald Cove seems under utilized. And even though the cotillion seems to be pretty superficial at first, it is about girls who are strong and smart and capable and also who do right by their community. While we see Izzie bending over backwards to volunteer, I wish the efforts of the other girls would have had more of a focus.
In 368 pages, details I would have loved to hear about were glossed over and that’s frustrating when the potential is there. Then there’s the curveball ending… much more deliberate than the first one and a device I didn’t think was necessary to make readers interested in picking up the next book.
This is the thing. Even though there are holes, there are still moments to enjoy in Winter White: cute boys, silly boys, a whirlwind trip to New York, and art(!!). Here’s hoping Book 3 is a smoother ride.