by Jen Calonita
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Source: Review copy (via ARC Tour)
My Rating: ★★★★☆
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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.
Belles is a very cute story about family values, love, friendship, and the old “money can’t buy you happiness” adage. Picture Gossip Girl meets Steel Magnolias. The two Belles of the story (Isabelle and Mirabelle) couldn’t be any more different, coming from different backgrounds and social status, they are more alike than they both realize.
Isabelle is the one who lives in near poverty, on the poor side of town. She lives with and cares for her grandmother who has trouble remembering her own name most days, and with the memory of her mother who died when she was just a little girl. The most cherished memories Izzie has of her mother are the ones of her teaching her how to swim. She has inherited this talent from her mother and she puts it to use by working as a lifeguard at the pier and by teaching swimming classes at the community center of her neighborhood. While working as a lifeguard, she meets a guy who surfs there and they become very friendly, making Izzie realize that she might be developing feelings for him, but refusing to act on them.
Mirabelle, also known as Mira, is the rich kid who has always had it all. From the most popular girl in school, Savannah, being her best friend, to her football player boyfriend and extensive wardrobe. Mira is a girl with good feelings and she is sometimes torn between the cruel decisions she is forced to go with in order to please her best friend. As the book is told from alternating points of view, when you are reading Mira’s you can’t help but think that she really is afraid of her friend, and what going against the Savannah will cost her. Mira is concerned with the superficial (friends, status, etc) and being a Senator’s daughter doesn’t help either, since she has to keep a professional and pleasant appearance at all times, so as not to jeopardize her father’s chances in the upcoming election.
Meanwhile, Izzie goes on with her life, trying to hide her grandmother’s worsening condition from the social worker that often visits her, until the day the inevitable can no longer be avoided and grandma is taken to a home. Izzie is told that she has an uncle who is a Senator and has agreed to become her guardian. He is Mira’s father. Izzie is taken to his mansion and introduced to this whole new lifestyle that she is not accustomed too. She has trouble at school because the rich kids don’t want to accept her and while her aunt begs Mira to stay close to Izzie and make her feel welcome, it just seems that Mira lets her friends dictate who Mira is allowed to become friends with. Lots of drama and sabotaging goes on in school trying to scare Izzie away and Mira does nothing to stop it, afraid of losing her status all because she wanted to stand up for what’s right.
I absolutely adored this book and its characters. I felt the frustration each girl felt with the things that happened to them. With Izzie I felt her despair for not being able to care for her grandmother the way she wanted to, and for being powerless to choose her own path. With Mira I felt her fear of losing it all, because of this new person in her life who she is supposed to love as a sister. Her motives were selfish but understandable in some ways. She really didn’t know any better. There is a huge revelation towards the end of the book that I won’t include in this review, but it is a very important one, so I suggest you pick up the boy and check it out. It was a fast, yet lite, read, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. 4 Stars.