Release: April 1, 2012
Others in the Series: Winter White and The Grass is Always Greener
Fifteen-year-old Isabelle Scott loves her life by the boardwalk on the supposed wrong side of the tracks in North Carolina. But when tragedy strikes, a social worker sends her to live with a long-lost uncle and his preppy privileged family. Isabelle is taken away from everything she’s ever known, and, unfortunately, inserting her into the glamorous lifestyle of Emerald Cove doesn’t go so well. Her cousin Mirabelle Monroe isn’t thrilled to share her life with an outsider, and, in addition to dealing with all the rumors and backstabbing that lurk beneath their classmates’ Southern charm, a secret is unfolding that will change both girls’ lives forever.
In Belles, the scandal runs high, the drama runs higher, and the money runs highest. Jen Calonita's tale is wonderfully soap opera-esque in a sophisticated, fabulous way, and the backstabbing events in this novel will ring true with many teens, but in this story, everything is taken to the level of the extremely privileged. I often felt my heart breaking for Izzie when her classmates judged her even more harshly than the average high schoolers might, and found myself cringing at the situations only a girl in her situation could get herself into. Anyone who has ever been in a position similar to Mira's will feel for her as well, as she tries to choose between her cousin and her friends.
All of this is set off perfectly by Calonita's amusing use of stereotypes. Phrases like "All EC girls…" and "People from Harborside…" were used frequently, providing a perfect irony when the characters' actions defied these statements, and contrast between the two groups of people, both the facts and ideas about them, that adds that interesting extra layer to the plot.
This book focuses more on Izzie's acclimation to her new home rather than the big secret mentioned in the synopsis, so, despite my expectations of a stronger mystery storyline, nothing regarding the secret happens until the very end. I did not find this disappointing, though; when it was finally revealed, I was shocked, because I somehow did not see that coming. Belles leaves plenty of room for the next novel, Winter White, to deal with the aftermath, which actually works very well.
The only concern of mine was the author's tendency to tell readers about the characters rather than let them find out for themselves through thoughts, action, and dialogue. I got to know all of them very well, but they always seemed a bit two-dimensional. I would have liked a little less "Mira was…" and more "Mira did…"