When I was a junior high student, I once checked a book of poetry by William Wordsworth out of my school library for over an entire year. Each week bringing it in to check it back out. Reading and re reading favorite passages. These were the days before easy purchase of anything imaginable over the internet. I loved the romance behind the words in the book so much that I had to keep it in my book bag for the whole school year. So, when I noticed that Beautiful Chaos (Little, Brown and Company, $18.99, 520 pages) opened with a quote from William Wordsworth’s The Prelude: Book Sixth, I was immediately hooked. As always, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl speak my language. Stohl, Garcia, and Wordsworth have something pretty major in common: They understand the concept of teen angst. Of dramatic and earth shattering love that triumphs against the odds.
Beautiful Chaos is book 3 in the Beautiful Creatures series. For those of you unfamiliar with the Beautiful Creatures books. The series follows teenager Ethan Wate and his girlfriend Lena. Lena is a caster. A caster is a sort of witch or sorcerer. There are light (good) and dark (evil) casters. Lena is both light and dark. She is the only caster ever to be both light and dark and the effects of her claiming both sides are being felt in the small Southern town of Gatlin. With Biblical plagues such as locust swarms tormenting Gatlin and disturbing dreams once again haunting Ethan, something drastic must happen or Gatlin will be destroyed.
The Beautiful Creatures series is one of the most well written YA series that I have had the pleasure of reading. In fact, Beautiful Darkness, book two in the series, was one of my favorite YA reads for 2010. Part of what makes the series so wonderful is the sense of place Garcia and Stohl evoke throughout the books. Beautiful Chaos is steeped in Southern goodness. From the pot pies, pulled pork, and other Southern comfort foods Amma serves throughout the book to the eccentricities the older characters possess, Beautiful Chaos feels like home to this Southern reader.
I read Beautiful Chaos over thanksgiving weekend. My husband and I decided on the spur of the moment to pack up the kids and spend the weekend at a friend’s home in Natchez, MS. The house we stayed in was a beautiful historic home (built circa 1830). We spent the weekend exploring Natchez and enjoying activities such as the lighting of the town Christmas Tree and a carriage tour through town. This was the perfect atmosphere for reading Beautiful Chaos. The house pictured at left is a home I saw while on a tour of Natchez. It reminded me of how Wate’s Landing, Ethan’s family home, might look. If you look closely, you can see that the water tower in the background says Natchez.
Club meetings. Ice cream socials. Finding reasons to make casseroles for people. These activities weave together to form the fabric of a Southern woman and Beautiful Chaos is full of moments exemplifying this that Ethan shares with the ladies in his life. One thing about Beautiful Chaos and the Beautiful Creatures series in general that always gives me a laugh are the exploits of the ladies in the DAR (Daughter of The American Revolution). This is so true of where I live (Biloxi, MS). Just this past week my mother-in-law sent me a daily email reminding me to give her a copy of my boys’ birth certificates so she could get their CAR (Children of The American Revolution) applications in. The picture above is of a statue in a park in Natchez. In Beautiful Chaos there is an old statue of a confederate general in the town square that the citizens of Gatlin dress up to commemorate holidays. It is such a Southern thing to make light of our towns’ sordid pasts and to make something happy out of the dark relics our towns are stuck with.
On the way home we stopped by New Orleans for lunch. (Jackson Square in New Orleans is pictured above.) Biloxi is only about an hour away from New Orleans, so we go there often. In Beautiful Chaos, one scene takes place in New Orleans at Marie Laveau’s grave, and there is mention of a special set of Tarot cards that predict fate instead of future. I had never heard of such a set of cards. So I figured I would pop in Marie Laveau’s on Bourbon St. to investigate after we finished lunch. I asked the cashiers about it and they didn’t know what I was talking about. Then I heard this little voice from the back of the store, “Did someone ask about the cards of fate?” At this point I looked down and realized my 4 year old had walked in the store with me. The nice young man behind the cash register was keeping him occupied showing him some sweet skull necklaces, so I went to where the voice was coming from. She was in a little room in the back behind a beaded curtain. The room had a couple of comfy chairs with doilies on the back, and she was holding a deck of Tarot cards. She had straight gray hair that hung past her shoulders, 60 years old if she’s a day, and her voice was tinny and mysterious. (Carol Anne! Carol Anne! Go into the light.) I leaned inside the room while keeping one hand on British’s shoulder and listened to her tell me about some Prophecy of Fate. It was totally like a scene out of a movie. I live for this kind of shit. But I couldn’t hang out with her because of the four-year-old I had in tow who had somehow talked me into buying him a spiked out punk bracelet. So, I never solved the mystery of the fate cards in Beautiful Chaos.
My journey through Mississippi and New Orleans was a lot like Beautiful Chaos. The books of the Beautiful Creatures series take readers to places all over the South. From Savannah to New Orleans, you never know where Ethan is going to pop up next. I am so happy I chose Beautiful Chaos as my Thanksgiving weekend traveling companion. I can’t wait to see what Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl will write next! Click here to purchase Beautiful Chaos from Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans.
Southern Reads is a column in which Mandy, The Well-Read Wife, discusses writing about or by Southerners as it pertains to her personal experience as a Southern woman.