Belles by Jen Calonita
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads: 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.
My thoughts: I enjoyed Calonita's previous book series as it was light, fun and clean. I am reasonably certain this will be another series I will enjoy, as well.
The story is somewhat predictable with a couple of concepts that I found well integrated. There is a Cinderella factor to some extent as Izzie goes from poor to rich in a matter of hours. The part I really liked about this was that Izzie didn't believe her life was broken. She lived in a rough town with her grandmother who was slowly losing her cognitive ability. She did all the shopping and housework as well as caring for and covering up her grandmother's failing health. She worked as a lifeguard to make ends meet plus volunteered at the community center. She was poor, yes. But she knew how to navigate her life to make it work. She had good friends, neighbors who watched out for her, and a strong sense of community with strong adults respecting her independence although concerned for her welfare. Her life was not perfect but she had the coping skills to make it work. I liked that.
Of course, Granny's condition worsens and the social worker suddenly finds a distant relative for Izzie to live with. The shocking twist at the end is pretty much not shocking, after all but that's neither here nor there. She enters the world of prestige and money. She also enters a prestigious private school with the requisite mean girl and entourage. That part bored me. Seen it. It's the old story of queen bee being threatened by new girl and mercilessly tries to tear her down. Also, queen bee's boyfriend is the love interest of Izzie. Mira, Izzie's age and her distant cousin won't stand up to queen bee and settles for path of least resistance although a truce is reached at some point.
Closure is minimal because this will obviously be a series, although the ending was enough closure for now. The mean people and political conflict will obviously play a part in the next books. Pleasant read. Wasn't blown over by it but it will be very well received by younger teens.
It's a book I will keep on my bookshelves for my girls to read.
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