As a book that isn’t afraid to deviate from the YA norm, while running head-long into other romantic novel clichés, Beautiful Creatures from the Caster Chronicles series is a mixed bag when analyzed through a feminist lens. Although the book is from the perspective of a young man, Ethan Wate, his love interest, Lena Duchannes, fills a much more important role in the story. Think Twilight, except gender-swapped.
Lena doesn’t appear to be anything but a weirdo at first. As the story takes place in modern-day Southern United States at a high school, no one is particularly excited to meet the gothic new girl that moved into reportedly haunted Ravenwood Estate. And she seems to prefer it that way. Lena doesn’t try to befriend any of the other kids at school, but small-scale disasters seem to happen whenever people whisper behind her back. The only one genuinely interested in her is Ethan, who begins to believe that she is the girl from the supernatural dreams he has been having since before she arrived. But she pushes him away and denies everything. It would take time for Lena to finally open up to Ethan about what she really is.
The world of the Beautiful Creatures series is identical to our own modern-day United States except that there is another, secret world of magic and Casters coexisting with us. Casters are essentially modern-day witches who must keep their magic a secret. However, there are also Light Casters, who try to use their magic for good, and Dark Casters, who are said to have lost the power to love and use their powers for evil. All Casters are able to choose whether they want to be Light or Dark, except for the Duchannes family, who have been cursed. In which case, that decision is made for them on their sixteenth birthday, and they are Claimed for either the Light or the Dark. This spells extra trouble for Lena, who is a Natural, the most powerful type of Caster, able to control weather and the elements. Although most Duchannes show some signs of being Claimed Light or Dark before their birthday, Lena seems at war with herself, and has a hard time controlling her powers under stress. As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Lena is unsure if she will be Claimed as either Light or Dark. She fears she will go Dark and ultimately destroy everything she’s ever cared about, and that entire decision is out of her hands.
Lena’s reasoning, then, for pushing Ethan away is two-fold. First, she doesn’t trust him. Lena knows the Caster world and mortal world shouldn’t mix. She knows a mortal — like Ethan — shouldn’t be aware of the magic around them. You only have to look at thehistory of the so-called Witches of Salem to know what kind of chaos that would create. But second, she doesn’t want to get him involved. Her world is dangerous, and it would be better for him if he was not part of it. In the movie, Lena goes to much greater lengths to achieve this.
From a feminist perspective, these are all good things. Lena is not a stereotypical high school girl –– though those do exist in the novel — and is a very strong-willed and independent young woman who is ready to speak her mind. She has other interests besides boys and isn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd. However that does not mean this book is without real feminist criticism. Far from it. But to limit the scope of this article only to Lena, there are definitely pitfalls Lena has as a YA heroine.
The most overused stereotype about women is that they are overly emotional. Beautiful Creatures has done nothing to refute that. In fact, when she is upset, she loses control of her Natural powers, and all heck breaks loose. Windows shatter, lightning strikes, rain pours, and tables spin a whirlwind. It would be one thing if this was an uncommon occurrence, but despite the last fifteen years of her life she’s spent living with her powers, she still can’t seem to control them or calm herself down. This is probably in the hopes of connecting with a young adult audience who also may have trouble dealing with their emotions, but Lena never really becomes a good role model for anything except panicking over her future. To be fair, she is not a completely helpless bystander to her own fate, despite what her curse would have you to be believe. By the end of the book, she takes matters into her own hands, for better or for worse… but unfortunately it’s not over her own fate that she flips the world upside down to change, it’s Ethan’s.
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