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.
Tell Me More: As I write this review, I am glad to find that the cover copy has changed from a spoilerific summary to one that just hints at the drama bubbling under the surface. It was rather disappointing to discover the big plot twist detailed on the back of the book, and my dismay may have coloured my thoughts on the rest of the story.
First things first: if Jen Calonita aimed to pen a fairly predictable story with minimal angst and a somewhat happy ending, she succeeded. Belles doesn’t attempt to be more than what it is, and I could have written down an outline of what was going to happen within the first 30 pages. There are no surprises in this plot, and the characters are familiar enough that one can guess what they’ll say next. While I certainly was looking for an easy-going book to read, I don’t know that Belles was as satisfying as I’d hoped.
Despite those minor setbacks, there is an undeniable charm to Isabelle and Mira’s story. Calonita sets up the tiny parallels in these two girls’ lives beautifully, and they remain a compelling duo through the entire book. Both girls begin to realize the hurdles they face in their respective positions, and it is truly interesting to watch them learn how to shake off the pressures of adolescence. Their families’ cliche characterizations fade in the background of Izzie and Mira’s glow. I was especially taken with Izzie’s spirited attitude and sense of self-value. Young girls would do well to adopt that same confidence and faith in themselves.
The final few pages of the story set up a full series, but I believe Calonita wraps this first one up nicely and it won’t be necessary to read the succeeding books for a well-rounded story.
The Final Say: While I won’t be picking up the next installment of the Belles series, it is a sweet and appealing read for younger teens looking for familiar dramatic ground with a touch of glamour.
It’s no secret how Jen Calonita knows the inside scoop on young Hollywood. A former Senior Entertainment Editor at Teen People, Jen has interviewed everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Zac Efron. An entertainment journalist for the past ten years, Jen has written for TV Guide, Glamour and Marie Claire.