Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James has perhaps received the most hype out of all the Australian new releases this year, and has definitely been the most talked about new book in our young adult market. Media coverage of Beautiful Malice was pushed into overdrive before the books release when an intense bidding war for the book resulted in advances on the manuscript being pushed over $1 million. Pretty unusual for an unpublished Australian author. When I passed the book at a local department store the glossy cover depicting a young, fresh face behind shattered glass immediately caught my eye. . I became so engrossed in the story that I read the entire book in one day. This was not an enormous feat since it’s 291 somewhat spaced out pages in large font, but it still shows how James’ story telling reeled me in.
Beautiful Malice opens with a preface told by Katherine, the protagonist’s older self. The first few lines read:
“I didn’t go to Alice’s funeral.
I was pregnant at the time, crazy and wild with grief. But it wasn’t Alice I grieved for. No, I hated Alice by then and was glad that she was dead. It was Alice who had ruined my life, taken the best thing I’d ever had and smashed it into a million unfixable pieces. I wasn’t crying for Alice but because of her.”
So we from the beginning we know Alice is dead, and we know that Katherine is pregnant. Chapter 1 races back to the past, to 17-year-old Katherine and 18-year-old Alice’s first meeting. We learn that Katherine’s younger sister is dead and that since then Katherine, wracked with guilt, has moved, changed her name (it was originally Katie) and assumed a withdrawn attitude to her peers, who know nothing of her past, not wanting to be noticed and yet desperately lonely. When Alice befriends her Katherine feels a wealth of gratitude towards her for it, and can hardly believe her luck at having a new friend.
Alice is a lot of fun to be around, at first. But as Katherine gets to know her better some less positive qualities start to stack up. Alice is prone to aggressive mood swings, she is uninhibited to the extreme, she is reckless, impulsive and swings back and forth between being incredibly empathetic and showing a complete disregard for or actively attempting to hurt other people’s feelings.
Beautiful Malice chops back and forth between older Katherine, to 17-year-old Katherine, to 15-year-old Katherine the night her sister was murdered. Through this structure James creates tension as bit by bit the full story is revealed. While we know the basics of the story from the very beginning, James manages to weave the story together so that discovering the how is a heart pounding experience.
This book is marketed at a young adult audience, but really I don’t think I would recommend it for readers below their late teens. There’s a fair bit of sexual content, a graphic sexual assault, violence and frequent drinking. I think that parts of this novel would be disturbing to readers younger than about 16 or 17-years-old.
I empathised with Katherine, I have definitely crossed paths with people who remind me in some ways of Alice (albeit not as psychotic), who always seem to be swinging between extremes, the most fun and bright person to be around one moment to quite destructive and reckless the next. Saying Alice is psychotic might constitute a spoiler to some, but it’s revealed on the book’s back cover by a passage highlighting Alice’s extremely malicious and shocking outbursts:
“”Truth or dare?” She asks.
I hesitate. “Truth,” I say finally. “I can imagine one of your dares, and I don’t fancy running down Oxford Street naked tonight.”
“Truth, Alice says slowly, drawing out the vowel as if she’s savouring the word. “Are you sure? Are you sure you can be completely honest?
“I think so, try me.”
“Okay.” And then she looks at me curiously. So. Were you glad, deep down? Were you glad to be rid of her? Your perfect sister? Were you secretly glad when she was killed?”
For the most part Beautiful Malice is not the most well-written teen novel out there, but it was intense and well-paced enough to suck me right in and hold my interest. If you’re looking for a novel that’s a light read, but dark and compelling at the same time I would recommend it.