September 7, 2010

Beautiful Malice: Review

Katherine's on the run. Not from a person, but from the past; the memory of her younger sister's death still haunts her. She can't talk about it with her parents, partly because she knows the slightest mention will set them off - and partly because she blames herself for what happened that night. She's looking for a new life. And she could use a new friend. 

Enter Alice.

Alice is bold, bubbly, and beautiful. She knows it. And Katherine knows it.
Alice is also ruthless. She knows that, too. And Katherine's about to find out...

It took me a bit to get into this book, but once I did - wow. I'll do my best to review without spoiling too much, but it'll be tough, because this book is chock full of spoilery events.


We don't know much about Katherine at the start of Beautiful Malice, and it takes a while to discover her personality. Her younger sister's death has changed her significantly, and the "Katie" we see in flashbacks - one who enjoys parties, hanging out with her friend Carly and making out with her boyfriend Will - is a vastly different girl than the closed-off Katherine burdened with guilt. Once I'd gotten a better understanding of Katherine, it was quite easy to like and root for her. She goes through a massive amount of difficulties and it's rewarding to see her coming to some realizations about her past and her future.

I don't know what to say about Alice. I think it would be very frightening if I was actually able to get inside her head, so I'm very glad I didn't. We know from the beginning (just from the jacket description) that Alice is bad news. It's just how bad that's the question. You'll have to read the book to know exactly how much damage she causes, but it's considerable. Mentally and emotionally, she's about as stable as a seesaw. And she's no stranger to secrets either.

I will say that I would have liked more time to see Katherine and Alice's friendship growing at the beginning. They seem to become close friends in what feels like quite a short amount of time (though I think the author skips over some weeks in there), and their friendship never really felt genuine to me. I couldn't figure out why Katherine wanted Alice as a friend and persisted in hanging out with her. It was a relief when Katherine began questioning this as well, but I'd been questioning it from the start. We were told there was a connection between them more than we were ever shown it, and that was a little frustrating.

Both of the main male characters in this book were well done. Robbie's head-over-heels for Alice, and although his determined willingness to overlook her faults was annoying in a why-can't-you-see-what's-right-in-front-of-you way, I had to feel sorry for him. The guy just couldn't seem to get over her, and he was such a decent guy that he didn't deserve the treatment he got. 

Mick, on the other hand, is a stronger and more self-assured guy than Robbie. He assesses Alice correctly from the start, and he never wavers. Also, he's protective of Katherine - you can tell he really cares for her and values all of her good qualities. I can't really think of any faults, except perhaps that he's a little careless sometimes...

Rachel, Katherine's sister, pops up in one of the storylines but I wanted to see more that would have fleshed out their relationship. Katherine eventually shares a bit more about her feelings towards Rachel, but the focus is on Rachel's death and Katherine's associated guilt. Rachel herself, as a character, fell a little flat, and I would have liked to have seen more interactions between them.


I found the first several chapters of this book fairly slow-moving and rather choppy. The narrative jumps around between the present-day (the "Sarah" storyline as I thought of it), the recent past (the "Alice" storyline) and the more distant past (the "Rachel" storyline). This was really confusing at first, because there are no chapter headings distinguishing these various narratives. I did think the "Sarah" storyline was a bit superfluous; while it's nice to see Katherine interacting with her daughter (this isn't a spoiler, you get told this at the very beginning) I think keeping the present-day prologue, and changing the last chapter to an epilogue bringing everything full-circle, might have worked.

Once I figured out the nature of the three storylines and the plot picked up, however, it became a compelling read. I'd heard that this book covered gritty topics and had a lot of 'shock value': so true. Perhaps it's a little over-the-top, all in one book, but it's the kind of stuff that gets your heart pounding as, glued to the pages, you keep reading to find out how it all ends.

All right, I can't do this without spoilers, so if you want to read this next bit, highlight the white text:

You'll find rape, murder, teenage pregnancy, and attempted suicide contained within Beautiful Malice. Frankly the attempted suicide bit - where Alice steps in front of Mick's car - was the weirdest part for me. It seemed pretty random, and unrealistic bordering on absurd - perhaps trying to "up the ante," so to speak, for greater effect. Alice did not strike me as the type who would try to kill herself; she just seemed too self-obsessed and narcissistic for that. Of course, she clearly had some mental health issues (perhaps a personality disorder?) and very occasionally she came across as vulnerable (although who knows, perhaps she was just acting). But still, it was rather bizarre. I thought at first she'd died then, and I was disappointed that she didn't go out with more of a bang; it seemed quite anti-climactic. We aren't really told whether she's hurt or not by the accident (which bugged me), but she's alive and well in the next chapter. Her actual death by drowning still struck me as a bit anti-climactic, but it was way more reminded me of a siren luring a man to his death. Also, Alice didn't deserve to go out with a bang - that's what she would have loved. She gets too much as it is, by taking Mick down with her and devastating Katherine.

So yes, I thought there was a lot of shock value in this book - but it was, for the most part, either plausible given the circumstances and/or in line with Alice's character. She's all about shocking people. Her character is fascinating from a psychological perspective; it's obvious that she thrives on attention, and the worse the attention, the better. She loves to rock the boat and be a diva and have everyone hang on her every word. Robbie (ironically enough) really manages to pinpoint Alice's personality when he talks about her hypothetical reaction if he and Katherine were to become involved: "Alice would care all right. But not for any of the normal reasons. Not because she loves me so much that she can't bear the thought of me being close to someone else. She'd care because she's not involved. She'd care because she's not the puppet master in this situation."

Writing style:

I've already mentioned the chronological leaping, which particularly bothered me at the start of the book. It also didn't feel like the story of a 17-year-old's life. Katherine's voice sounds too mature for a teenager's (she does acknowledge this, so that's something), and her situation - living with a conspicuously absent aunt, with her mom and dad out of the picture for a good chunk of it - seemed more like that of a college student. I actually kept thinking she was in college for a while and double-checked partway through, but no, she's definitely in high school. There were so few descriptions of life at the high school that it was difficult to remember this.

Many YA books handle mature subject matter, so it wasn't so much the content in Beautiful Malice as how Katherine (and others) reacted to it. I didn't usually mind this, except that I felt it was incongruous with Katherine's age and the high school setting. Make her a few years older, put her in college, and it probably wouldn't be an issue. (Although, at one point I also felt that the mom's response to a particular event was not very realistic.)

Also, I found myself sometimes going "show, don't tell." This mostly happened when Katherine was describing her relationships with and impressions of various individuals, but I wished we could have seen how her perspective played out in interactions with others, rather than having Katherine state that this was how she felt.

James does do an excellent job of using the present tense while managing to convey a foreboding tone that hints at both the past, and in a way, the future. For instance, "I have a wonderful time. It's more fun than I've had in years. And while I'm there I don't think of my sister once, nor of my devastated parents. I dance and laugh and flirt. I forget, temporarily, about the night I realised the awful truth about myself. I forget all about the night I discovered the shameful, grubby coward at the core of my soul." It makes you want to keep on reading!

Final verdict: 4 out of 5 shooting stars. There's a lot of mature subject matter in here so I'd only recommend this one for older readers. Read if you like psychology and twisted interpersonal relations.


  1. Great review. This sounds intense! I'm adding this to my tbr. Sounds great!

  2. Brilliant review! This one sounds really, really good. :)

  3. Just stopping by via the September Spectacular site. Hmm not too sure about this one, thanks for an honest review though.

  4. Wow this looks like a great read. I'm going to add it to my ever growing tbr pile.

  5. I haven't heard of this book yet, thanks for bringing my awareness to it. This sounds like a book I'll definitely enjoy.
    Amazing review, thank you! :)

  6. I've been really curious about this one! Glad u enjoyed it!

  7. This book really was intense. I have to say, I had a friend or two in high school that had serious issues like Alice and I can definitely see her more realistic than other people may because they haven't met people like her in real life. It was beyond gritty and really just blew me away. Definitely an emotional rollercoaster book and one I agree with should be for older teens. Thanks for sharing such a great indepth review!


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