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Review of The Belles

The Belles
by Dhonielle Clayton
Middle School, High School    Freeform/Disney    440 pp.
2/18    978-1-4847-2849-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4847-3249-6    $10.99

In the fantastical courtly society of Orléans, everyone is born ugly — “skin pallid, gray, and shriveled, eyes cherry red, hair like straw — as if all the color was leeched out of them.” Everyone, that is, except the Belles, the few girls in each generation blessed by the Goddess of Beauty with innate loveliness (of diverse skin tones and body shapes) and the supernatural ability to manipulate the appearance and personality traits of others. The Belles’ gifts require long study and discipline to refine; the treatments are exhausting for the Belles and often excruciatingly painful for their clients. As the Queen’s Favorite Belle, Camille moves into the palace to provide beauty services to royals and aristocrats. Her primary client, Princess Sophia, soon reveals her sociopathic obsession with becoming the most beautiful in all of Orléans — as well as her insatiable thirst for power. In this deceit-filled and dangerous environment, Camille must make alliances and decide whether to use her gifts to intervene in Sophia’s schemes. In an immediate present tense, Clayton vividly describes dazzling fashion and lavish galas in profound contrast to gruesome, invasive treatments and extreme class disparity. And while Clayton’s primary theme is the destructiveness wrought by societally imposed beauty ideals, she also touches upon other systems of exploitation, including slavery, racism and colorism, rape culture, and forced labor. The (slightly rushed) ending leaves many questions to be explored in projected further installments.

From the May/June 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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