Goodreads: Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book
Imprisoned in the Beast’s castle, Belle finds a mysterious book in the library that, upon opening, allows her to enter its pages and take part in its story. There she meets a handsome duke and an enchanting duchess who assure her that she can stay with them forever. But are they truly who they seem? And, when the story tries to claim her, will Belle be able to find her way back home?
I am always hesitant to read movie tie-ins, but my love for Jennifer Donnelly’s Stepsister convinced me to give this one a try. However, while I do think Lost in a Book is better written than the average movie tie-in, the most engrossing parts prove to be the framing story Donnelly creates, in which the sisters Love and Death compete to win a wager over whether the Beast can change. The main story featuring Belle, the Beast, and a few of the castle servants, is disappointing in contrast, with the characters never fully seeming to come alive. Ultimately, Lost in a Book will appeal to die-hard Disney fans, but probably not engage the average reader of YA fantasy.
In Lost in a Book, Donnelly employs a similar framing story to that in Stepsister (released two years after). Love and Death have a wager as to whether the Beast will fall in love or die first, leading Death to find a way to stack the odds in her favor. Understanding that Belle feels alone and isolated, she has her servants sneak an enchanted book into the library–a book that Belle can enter, one where she can attend balls, travel to Paris, and make friends. The catch? If Belle is not careful, she will be trapped in the book forever, causing Love to lose.
This framing device is extremely compelling, despite its familiarity (in Stepsister, Fate and Chance make a wager on the life of one of Cinderella’s stepsisters), so it is highly disappointing that the story fails to come to life when it focuses on Belle. Belle somehow comes across as flat and lifeless–and even somewhat annoying and stupid. The main impetus for her journeys into the enchanted book are that she is upset the Beast fails to tell her everything she wants to know (like she can really expect the poor guy to have superior interpersonal skills after everything that has happened to him). She gets angry at his reticence, fails to recognize how hard he is trying in other areas (like helping her clean, setting up a skating party even though he doesn’t skate, participating in a surprise birthday party, etc.), and so retreats into a book where she readily makes friends with strangers who also tell her nothing and whom she receives warnings against.
Ultimately, I think many readers will be disappointed by Belle’s characterization and by how lifeless the “Beauty and the Beast” sections of the book feel when compared with the framing story. Donnelly excels where she has the most latitude for originality, but feels stifled when she has to write a story set in an already-defined world with already-created characters. This, combined with how the story feels half-finished–since it is only an interlude in the tale and does not bring readers to the resolution, the Beast’s transformation–makes for a somewhat lackluster read. Disney fans will probably pick this one up regardless, but Lost in a Book never creates an experience that lives up to its own title.