Beauty and the Beast is a classic story, popular even before Disney made it into an animated feature film. Retellings of the tale number in the dozens. Where Beastly differs from most of these retellings is in its setting. Rather than placing the traditional story line in a medieval or quasi-medieval environment, author Alex Flinn chose to use modern-day New York City as the backdrop to his novel. Group therapy sessions held via the internet are a particular charm, as they combine typical internet chat conventions with nods to other fairy tales involving transformations from animal to human or vice versa.
The story is familiar: a boy is mean and arrogant and is punished by a witch to look like a beast. In keeping with the otherwise modern setting, he is not confined to a castle, but rather to a Manhattan apartment. Instead of magical singing servants, he is restricted to one feisty maid and a blind tutor who is unable to be revolted by the sight of the Beast he has become. There is the romantic lead as well, and her coming to the apartment is handled very well. The author’s end note points out that Beauty’s father’s willingness to just hand over his daughter to what he must believe is her death is actually fairly disturbing. The reasons for such a transaction in a modern world are realistically done. While not necessarily going to win any major awards for subtlety or lyricism, Beastly manages to be an entertaining read.