“Lost in a Book” by Jennifer Donnelly is a brand new book about Belle and the Beast from “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s a story that takes place during Belle’s stay at the castle after she has offered to take her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner.
The novel works well for those who already know the story — and really, who doesn’t? In fact, with the recently released Beauty and the Beast movie, reading the book becomes even more enjoyable as a way to immerse oneself into that whole fairy tale world.
The story-within-a-story is about a bet between Death and her sister, Love. As the story opens, they are playing chess, and the reader learns quickly that Death is not above cheating to win. And when they wager about whether Belle can change the Beast’s stone heart into one that can love and feel kindness and compassion, Death will stop at nothing to make sure that she wins the bet.
She places an enchanted book called “Nevermore” in a corner of Beast’s library. And when Belle comes across it, she can’t resist the lure of its pages and the magic within. But will her growing fondness for Beast and the inhabitants of the castle be enough to fight the spell of the magic, the trickery and the treachery?
Donnelly writes dialogue that feels authentic, and her ability to combine the plot, the dialogue and just enough description to keep the story interesting all serve to make this a book that will be enjoyed by middle grade readers and even young adult readers who are Beauty and the Beast fans.
While it’s probably not a book that will become a classic, it does demonstrate wonderful expression of emotion and worthwhile lessons; and it really adds to the whole fairy tale experience. Some of the thoughts and themes are particularly lovely, as when Agathe, the local beggar woman, tries to comfort a distraught father whose son has died. She tells him:
“Death only wins if you let her.” And when the father asks how he can defeat death — because he cannot bestow life, she responds, “You think life is the vanquisher of death? It is not. Love is. Life is fragile. Life ends. But love? Loves lives forever.”
That would be a perfect place for classroom teachers (or clever parents) to introduce “Annabelle Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe or other poems about everlasting love. So the story is not what one might expect from a Disney-produced book. It’s not pink lace and magic wands. It’s sorrow, cruelty and deceit on one side, and kindness, compassion, and the truth on the other.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Disney, for review purposes.