For some reason (lack of eye candy?), Bravo's "NYC Prep" isn't really doing much to fill the void in my life left by the summer "Gossip Girl" hiatus. But reading "Beastly," a novel about a very Chuck Bass-ian character given a fairy-tale comeuppance, most certainly did.
Alex Flinn's story — which is currently being made into a movie starring Vanessa Hudgens, Neil Patrick Harris, Peter Krause, Mary-Kate Olsen and Alex Pettyfer (whom you can see as the beast here) — is a New York prep-school twist on "Beauty and the Beast," told from the Beast's perspective. Kyle is rich, popular, handsome and undoubtedly the most conceited boy in his Upper East Side school. He's also quite cruel to his less-blessed classmates, a trait he seems to have learned from his self-absorbed anchorman father.
Kyle plays a joke on Kendra, the goth chick who dared to call him out on his ugly nature, by asking her to a school dance and then showing up with his girlfriend Sloane instead (OK, one pet peeve with this book? Kyle and Sloane have to be the most clichéd rich-kid character names in the history of teen fiction). But Kendra isn't heartbroken. She actually turns out to be a witch who has decided to teach Kyle a lesson by, you guessed it, turning him into a "beast." He's a hideous half-man, half-animal, with hair all over and clumsy, clawed hands. But because he did one teeny tiny kind thing on the night of the dance, she leaves him an out: If he is kissed by someone he loves and who loves him back within two years, the spell will be broken. In the meantime, his father, worried about the embarrassment of living with an ugly son, banishes him to live in a brownstone in Brooklyn with a housekeeper and a live-in, blind tutor.
Then, of course, there's the "beauty" in this equation: Lindy, a scholarship student at Kyle's school. She's been taking care of her junky dad on her own, and he returns the favor by giving her up to beastly Kyle when he's caught trying to rob Kyle's house. She's not too happy about the situation, but she's also predictably angelic and there's never really any doubt that she'll give him the required kiss by story's end.
The plot does seem slightly childish on the surface, but the execution is what makes it actually work. Kyle is obviously easy to hate at first, but as he gradually begins to learn his lesson — and becomes a gardening and literature enthusiast in the process — you'll also find yourself slowly growing to like him. The story is regularly interrupted by enjoyable transcripts from the "Unexpected Changes" chat group Kyle joins for people going through "transformations." A frog and bear (who both used to be boys), and a mermaid who's deciding whether to take the plunge and become a girl commiserate online about their ridiculous situations, the difficulty of typing without real fingers and how their parents just don't understand. It's a clever way for Flinn to poke fun at fairy tales while simultaneously making us believe in this one a little.
I'm looking forward to seeing how this will work as a movie, especially with NPH playing Kyle's tutor, Will, and Mary-Kate Olsen as Kendra the witch. And it'll be interesting to see Hudgens as Lindy, her first non-musical role. Could be totally juvenile, of course, but also totally fun.
Have you read "Beastly"? Tell us below what you think of the book!