Beast by Donna Jo Napoli (Atheneum, 2000, 272pp.)
Most readers know how the story of Beauty and the Beast turns out (cursed prince must win the love of lady to become human again and succeeds), but how it all began is a completely different matter. Here, at last, the Beast's origins are revealed. Prince Orasmyn is a Persian prince with a fondness for reading and gardening--especially roses. But when he angers a vindictive fairy and is turned into a lion, she tells him that his only hope of breaking the curse is to win the unconditional love of a woman. The author's integration of Persian culture into this popular fairy tale works splendidly. Sadly, everything that occurs after Orasmyn's transformation is just not very interesting: he hunts for prey and he (tries to) hang out with other lions. At some point, he decides to go to--where else?--France to search for his one true love. His angst over Belle's acceptance quickly becomes annoying, and Belle, who appears a mere 60 pages before the story's end, doesn't get the time she deserves to develop into a well-rounded character. While the story does have its sweet moments, too few of them are with Belle. For a work of such amazing potential, finishing Beast proves to be a chore. Recommended for Ages 13-15.
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