Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Summary: “Love grows such strange things.
For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.
The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.” (Summary found on Goodreads).
“Even in its first faint traces, love could alter a landscape. It wrote unimagined stories and made the most beautiful, forbidding places.”
Wild Beauty is one of the most enchanting novels I have ever read. The prose is so beautiful and all-encompassing. This is what it means to be a magic realism book. There’s that atmosphere to it that you can get lost in, the kind that feels like you’re trapped somewhere in between the zones of reality. Time doesn’t exist when you’re reading magic realism, everything feels so distant yet close at the same time.
I really can’t say there is a substantial plot to Wild Beauty though. It mostly follows the general “boy arrives, girls are surprised, why is boy here?” kind of thing. I felt like it was missing direction, which is honestly my main issue with this novel. If there were more of a clear path for this book to take, I think it could have been raised to 5 stars. I know that part of magic realism is the atmosphere, but I think there also needs to be something leading the book. I feel like the characters were just thrown into a place together with that inciting incident, but the story was more about their interactions and personal struggles afterward.
I do admit, I was confused somewhere in the middle and wasn’t sure if my questions would be answered, but by the end, I was fully satisfied with the explanations! The “why” of everything was rather far from what I expected and I really appreciated that there was a stronger reason for everything’s occurrences behind it all. I finished the book with one or two questions, but I think those are more the fault of mine for missing something along the way. I’m sure if I reread it, I wouldn’t be wondering about anything.
Above all, I loved the message of Wild Beauty, which wasn’t so much about romance, but about familial bonds, love in a general sense, and all the ways people love–even if it’s not “conventional”. This book is unapologetically feministic and diverse, both of which are so unseen in young adult novels. Though, I am glad to see a new outburst of diverse books–keep them coming! And it is oh-so refreshing to read a book that is almost entirely Latinx. So, thank you, Anna-Marie McLemore, for continuing to write novels for the underrepresented.
I also loved Estrella and Fel with all my heart. Their relationship felt strong and gradual. Despite occurring over a short span of time, I didn’t get a sense of insta-love from it (though, I have seen some reviews that disagree). I really appreciated that they both were clearly defined as their own individuals, neither being overwhelmed by the other and pushed to the side. There was a strong sense of equality in their relationship. I also loved that the stereotypical roles were reversed, where Estrella became the assertive one and Fel the more passive one (though never portrayed negatively).
Lastly, this book really made me want to have a flower garden. I loved how all the character’s names correlated to the flowers they grew. That was such a wonderfully creative inclusion. The descriptions of the flowers too…it just made this book feel so much more beautiful.
If you read only a few books in 2018, make Wild Beauty one of them. I urge you to read about these wonderful flower children and the garden of La Pradera that feels almost like a character itself.