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Belle

Many books at the height of popularity in this day and age are imaginative retellings of old stories most readers are familiar with. Gregory Maguire's critically acclaimed Wicked gives a new perspective to L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, and Fr...

Belle
View of the cover of Cameron Dokey's "Belle." Photo courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Many books at the height of popularity in this day and age are imaginative retellings of old stories most readers are familiar with. Gregory Maguire's critically acclaimed Wicked gives a new perspective to L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, and Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars spins a dramatic new story from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. The book that is the subject of this review, Belle, by Cameron Dokey, is a retelling of another familiar tale, Beauty and the Beast.

Annabelle Evangeline Delaurier, better known by her family and the citizens of the town where she lives as Belle, believes that compared to her sisters, her face does not match her name. She does not believe herself to be 'beautiful'. This element has a way of making her a very relatable character, especially for young women. But, in being so relatable, there is the risk of her becoming vague or two-dimensional, and sometimes as a character Belle teeters right on the edge of that, but somehow always manages to avoid falling into the abyss of bland, cookie-cutter heroines.

The primary focus of the book, at least the first half, is not the traditional Beauty and the Beast story. Rather, it focuses more on Belle's views of herself and her relationship with her parents and two stunningly beautiful sisters. In fact, there is no real mention of the Beast until about halfway through the 204-page novel., and Belle does not arrive at his castle until there is only about a quarter of the book left. This has it's ups and downs; on one hand the reader gets a better feel for Belle than perhaps in the original story, but on the other it leaves very little room for the original story to actually be told.

A very refreshing element to the story, however, is the behavior of Belle's two older sisters. In most versions of the story, beauty had made them nasty and manipulative towards their sweet little sister. This old, rehashed plotline is grossly overused, so it was quite a relief not to have it seen in this novel. The older sisters, April and Celeste, in many ways behave no differently than any other sibling, meaning that while they can be nasty and bossy at times, they still care for Belle and treat her well.

An author takes a certain risk when they work up their own retelling of a classic. And in this case, though the classic tale is quite delayed, the author has succeeded. Cameron Dokey managed to put a new spin on an old tale and make readers see long-established characters in an entirely new light, while still maintaining the heart and message the original fairytale embodies.

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