Note: I received a free eBook copy of Something Beautiful by Pen Name Publishing, in exchange for a review before I started working for them. The content of the review is 100% my own personal opinion.
I’ve done a lot of reading this year. I read the entire Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy. I read the Red Queen series. But this book? This was, hands down, one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Now, before I start, I just want to say— this book received a lot of negative reviews, and I just don’t understand it. I actually decided to talk further in depth about these negative reviews at the bottom of this review, so if you’re interested in comparing my opinion with theirs, feel free to go read that. But my personal, spoiler free review will remain in this top part.
(Also, a quick warning, this book does contain some difficult themes such as self-harm and suicide.)
Declan and Cordelia have been friends since they were three years old. They grew up together, and understood each other in a way no one else could. In their high school years, they dated, planned to get married, but then Declan starts to realize he might be gay, which leaves him wondering why he’s clearly attracted to men over women, but still feels such strong love for Cordelia.
What I Liked:
- I loved the perspective switch. While in some books this can be really disjointing for a reader, I found this transition smooth and, more importantly, perfectly placed. It was such an interesting dynamic to see what both characters thought of each other, and view them through outsider eyes.
- The rawness of this book— just as real life is not sugarcoated, this book will take you on highs higher than drugs, and then throw you to rock bottom where you’ll cry for a good half hour.
- The relationships in this book— this is not a romance. This is an exploration to two souls connecting despite all variables and odds. And I love how other relationships came and went through the book, but time and time again, these two souls found each other.
- The transition through life— I loved reading about Cordelia and Declan as kids, and seeing them grow and mature before my eyes. The characterization was wonderful, and it was really clear to me what ages they were at every stage of the book without having to be told.
What I Disliked:
- I think that in some places the pacing was slightly off, or more description could have been added just to make the words flow a little better. But for the most part, this was done well.
- I also would have loved to see more of Lucas and Stella.
Cordelia: I loved being in Cordelia’s head. She’s an amazing character and she overcame so much in her life.
Declan: Declan was so sweet, so fleshed out, and such a lovely character to get to know. The way he handles everything with Cordelia, as well as Lucas and everything else, is so admirable!
Adam: Man, Adam is such a conflicting topic. My first impression of him was not a good one, because of how he’s portrayed in such a small space of the book, but I could still feel the impact he left behind.
Peter: I really didn’t like Peter at first, but towards the end I came to appreciate his presence and understand his importance.
Lucas & Stella: SO CUTE!! I wish we had more of them *crying*
I feel like I just can’t reiterate enough how much I love this book and how IMPORTANT this book is! I hope many, many more people read it and find the same love for it that I did.
Green Tea | This book was good for the soul/explored mental issues
I recognize that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I would like to just touch on a few points bought up in negative reviews for this book, and why I disagree with those points. I hope it helps anyone trying to decide whether to read this book or not, and influences them to give it a chance.
Problem #1 – Cordelia’s Perspective as Opposed to Declan’s
Some readers felt that Declan’s perspective should have been maintained throughout the entire book, because he is an LBGT+ character in a story exploring LBGT+ issues.
I am not a member of the LBGT+ community— by which, I mean I am a straight female. I do support the LGBT+ community wholeheartedly. However, when it comes to literature, film, video games… basically anything in which people from these communities have a chance to make their voice heard, it’s either well received or completely criticized. What people seem to misunderstand is that storytelling is made up of multiple themes and elements. One element alone does not become the centre focus of the story— without all these various elements, there would not be a story.
The same thing occurs in life.
We are all human. We all have feelings, emotions, appearances, personalities, traits, and we all exist together on this Earth. The universe does not exist for white people alone, or people of colour alone. It does not exist for straight couples, or gay couples, or transgender people alone. It does not exist for one race alone. We are all here to co-exist together, and form a much larger story. Stories are written in the perspective of the person who can best convey the story, from the perspective most effective for the story. And this still rings true with Cordelia and Declan in Something Beautiful— Cordelia’s perspective is crucial for the reader to understand how Declan affects her life, and the people around her. This is not a story centring on Declan alone— it’s the story of their life and how it entwines from start to finish.
A good example of this being done before is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, which is a literature classic, studied in schools, and it explores many controversial issues of the time (including slavery, people of colour, and equal rights). That book is told through the eyes of a young, white girl. But you don’t see people criticizing that book because it wasn’t told in the perspective of Tom Robinson. So to criticize Something Beautiful for being told through the eyes of an external, straight character, who observes the conflict of a particular, queer character, is kind of stupid.
Problem #2 – Failure to Effectively Explore Mental Health Issues
Some readers felt that Cordelia’s mental health was portrayed without tact and that many scenes in the book were too uncomfortable to read. They also felt that Cordelia and Declan’s relationship was unhealthy because they were too co-dependant.
Okay well, I’m not going to be nice about this one. News flash— it’s not meant to be comfortable to read. Never, at any stage, is mental illness going to be easy to endure, or talk about. It’s not. And the book captures that. Not many authors can capture the realness of something so dark.
As for the aftermath, which many people seemed to portray as an unhealthy, co-dependant relationship— everyone deals with mental health differently, and those who do have it sometimes need someone to rely on. Besides, I do not see how Declan and Cordelia’s relationship was too co-dependant when they spent a good chunk of the book living in separate cities while raising kids. I mean come on, that’s pretty independent. And parenthood is a partnership, so realistically, they should be depending on each other.
Problem #3 – Misrepresentation of Queer Characters in Fiction
Some readers felt like Declan was not properly represented to be queer due to his feelings for Cordelia.
I completely disagree with this. Declan’s character made perfect sense to me. Love is one of the hardest things in the world to make sense of, and our society is obsessed with labelling people a certain way. They have to be clear about who they’re attracted to, right down to whether it’s men or women. And if it’s both, the correct term is supposed to be bisexual.
But when our bodies were formed, and the existence of genders and sexuality came into being, there was no external force dictating that love is black and white— that sexuality one thing or another. Declan is something else entirely, but he still identifies as a queer character, and I still think the correct labelling is queer over bisexual.
Anyone who gets hung up over this tiny detail is missing the entire concept of the book— it breaks past the labels of sexuality, and shows a relationship that is purely two souls connecting despite a ton of variables and odds. Something Beautiful is a story that needs to be read— and Declan is one the most impressive characters to be introduced into the LBGT+ fiction community. In fact, dare I suggest, the literature world itself.
Now, the stem of this issue really comes from the fact that the LBGT+ community is generally misunderstood, and it’s always been a battle to make people understand why people have different sexualities. So, there is a predetermined expectation that all LGBT+ literature must explore the reasoning behind why a character feels a certain way, preferably through witnessing a detailed, romantic relationship that fits one of the above labels, and if it doesn’t, it’s a total flop. I don’t know why people are bagging this book out just because it failed to meet their expectations. This is a fresh voice in diverse literature, and it’s a step in the right direction.
People get upset. It’s what they do— and it’s what they’ve been programmed to do the moment they decided to fight for equal rights. It’s what people have to do because the world is full of conflicting opinions. And while I understand the need, and the right, to fight for equal rights and equal representation, I really don’t think all LBGT+ literature needs to meet this restrictive expectation. Again, we are all here to co-exist together, and form a much larger story. And the story of life is one big, fat mess. Nothing is black or white— there are always going to be variables to everything in life. And that is why I think Declan’s character was not misrepresented at all— the inner conflict he has to sort through is a story that’s evidently not seen a lot in the LBGT+ community, and that’s why I think it’s so important that it gets read by more people.
And finally, just a thought on diversity in literature from the perspective of a writer:
Diversity in literature isn’t always possible.
I constantly see people asking for diversity in fiction, for more LBGT+ characters. Just as I always see people wanting more representation in video games, and films. So why would you attack authors who do go out of their way to deliver these kinds of stories for you?
A story always has certain characters for a reason. We can’t just chuck in a handful of people of queer characters, just to even out the cast. If I’d done that in my fantasy series Lanterns in the Sky, it would have made zero sense. Because that’s not the purpose of my story. My story has nothing to do with people of differing sexualities, and trying to mix them in would take away from the plot. I want to include these people in my stories, but only when they can contribute meaningfully and wholeheartedly to the story.
Unfortunately, this will be an ongoing issue with diverse literature. I think we should be encouraging multiple voices to come forward in the literature world, and share their stories of diverse and queer characters, instead of attacking every attempt an author makes to do just that. Because it’s not possible for diverse characters to make an appearance in every single type of story. We need more individual stories that include these characters. And Something Beautiful does a tremendous job— it’s a wonderful book and it explores so many issues that readers can resonate with.
(And, just as a side note, if you really feel singled out just because you’re not seeing diverse or queer characters in the majority of your books, then maybe you’re missing the whole point of reading. Might I suggest you check the blurb before you go picking your books up.)
I hope you enjoyed this review! Let me know what you thought of the book.