Review: Beige by Cecil Castellucci

Posted: June 17, 2014 in Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,

This review was first posted at West of Mars. It’s being reposted here, at its new permanent home.

I’d heard good things about Cecil Castellucci’s Beige, so I attempted extra lengths to get my hands on it. A copy popped up at Paperbackswap.com before I could get to a bookstore and wouldn’t you know, but it’s the latest in a year-long epidemic of books showing up with water stains (despite my clear request that these sorts of books NOT be sent my way. Sigh).

Still, a little water will only prevent me from re-listing the book at PaperBackSwap. It won’t prevent me from reading it… with a canister of albuterol handy. Water damage invites mold into a book, people!

It was hard to put Beige on the Read Soon pile (as opposed to the ToBeRead mountain range in my office). It didn’t linger long, a scant two months. Maybe two and a half.

In the end, I have to say I was disappointed with Beige. It’s not that it’s not a good book. It is. It’s not that you can’t feel the music in these pages. You can.

It’s that it reminds me so much of one of my all-time favorite books, Fat Kid Rules the Earth, that Beige seems like a derivative female version of the same story.

Oh, there are differences: Katy comes to LA, expecting to spend two weeks with her father the legendary punk rocker. She meets a cast of characters who should have been vibrant and wonderful, but didn’t live and breathe as much as I’d have liked them to. I left this book wanting to know more about Garth. More about Trixie, and her relationship to The Rat. And I left it hoping that Lake would become less of the cliche she is in these pages. Leo, too. Talk about the perfect jock who’s into one-night stands before he loses his virginity.

Still, if you either can’t draw the comparison with Fat Kid or if you don’t want to, the way Castellucci draws the music for the reader is well done. As Katy begins to understand it, so do we. It’s a slow surrender, a slow realization of what music is and how it operates. And why it’s so important to so many of us.

I loved, too, the idea of the pool as the gathering place. In fact, I wish the final group scene had been set down at the pool. It became a strong metaphor for Katy’s transformation. But not just Katy’s. Her friends, such as they are, transform also, as the best characters in the best books do. Lake grows. Garth changes, although he’s still too much an enigma. I want more Garth! (I can easily see him holding court in his own book, in fact.)

In a switch from most plots aimed at kids and teens, I honestly thought there was one adult who stole the show: The Rat. Man, the visual I drew of him was of Tommy Lee, all skinny arms and legs and tattoos. But he’s also a man struggling with a past that continues to stalk him, a past that he built his legacy on. It can stalk him all it wants; he’s going to continue to find ways to work it. His band wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan. They’re coming back.

And still, The Rat bangs his drums to deal with his addiction cravings. He bangs his drums because he doesn’t get his own daughter. He wants, he needs, he can’t wash his dishes.

Here is one point where Castellucci doesn’t sink into the cliche: Katy doesn’t clean up The Rat’s apartment. She finds a way to dwell in the filth — and
eventually, it stops bothering her. Maybe she even grows comfortable in it.

Fat Kid definitely ruined this book for me. The two are very similar; there’s no doubt about it. Overall, I think the themes of acceptance within an often ill-regarded subculture were better done by KL Going. But there’s plenty going on within Beige to recommend it, also. This is one of those books that could spin off sequels and series entries — although part of its magic is that it’s complete as is. We close the cover and wonder what’s ahead for these people. And we hope it’s all good.

One last note: Yep, I recommend this book, despite finding it falls short. I’ve been talking about it since I finished it, I’ve been thinking about it. Above all else, that is what sets the great books apart.

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