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Dead Beautiful by Melanie Dugan

Dead Beautiful

by Melanie Dugan

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Originally posted here and there's a giveaway open until July 3 if you follow that link.

Mythology, particularly Greek, has been one of my favorite subjects to read about since I was a child. When I was really young, I had a picture book full of myths. Then I graduated to chapter books. My love for the Greek gods and goddesses has never diminished. They call to my imagination so strongly, Zeus with his wandering eyes, understandably jealous Hera, clever and brutal Athena, terrifying Hades, and naive Persephone.

I especially love when an author can put a new spin on one of these old tales. Dugan definitely has her own distinct take on the myth of Hades and Persephone, and on Mount Olympus itself. Dead Beautiful is funny and well-written, as well. What I like most is that Dugan imbues Persephone with a bit more intelligence than most adaptations; this Persephone makes her own choices and is actually powerful and intelligent. This made a lovely change from the thoughtless girl kidnapped by the God of the Dead.

The style of Dead Beautiful is very interesting. The story is told from many points of view: Demeter, Zeus, Persephone, Hades, and more. Each section, generally quite short, reminded me most of those confession cameras on reality shows. It was kind of like The Real World: Mount Olympus. The characters snipe at one another in their internal monologues, commenting on what the others are saying and how sick they are of being treated a certain way. This worked pretty well for the most part, and very much fit with her view of the gods.

Dugan's gods run Mount Olympus like a corporation, concerned with market share and that upstart Jesus who is trying to overthrow them with his peaceful mumbo-jumbo. This, too, was funny, although I wasn't a huge fan of the repetition of it throughout the book. The first time the point was made, I chuckled, but I wasn't invested enough in it to want more details.

My main issue with Dead Beautiful was the awkwardness of the setting. What time are they in? They seem to be in Roman times, during Jesus' lifetime. However, Zeus says at one point of something that 'it's along the lines of how radio frequency will function in eighteen, nineteen centuries' (92). Does this mean that the gods, or Zeus at the very least, can see the future, that they live, in essence, in all times? I would be okay with that, only, if that's the case, shouldn't they know that Jesus' religion will eclipse theirs? Shouldn't they know they will become solely fodder for fiction? Because they do not seem to know that. I found the whole thing disconcerting, with references to drachmas as the monetary system mentioned in the same breath as one character's possibly having ADD/ADHD. The book would have been much stronger with a bit more consideration of these points.

Although Dead Beautiful had some large issues, I definitely enjoyed reading it. There were enough new and amusing things that I was entertained all the way through. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Apr 1, 2013 |
For those of you who don’t know the Persephone myth, a quick recap: Persephone, daughter of the Greek goddess of of the harvest, is abducted by Hades, the Greek god of the dead. Before she is rescued by her mother Demeter, she eats six pomegranate seeds. As a result, she is required to spend six months of every year with Hades and her mother is so distraught during those times that she neglects her job as goddess of the harvest and we have fall and winter. In Dead Beautiful, Melanie Dugan considers the possibility that Persephone wasn’t abducted after all but was just a rebellious teen who fell in love with Hades and didn’t have the courage to tell her mom.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the journal entry style in which this story is told. It made it a little harder to get into the story and the writing was a bit choppy at first. However, once I got into the story and events started to flow, the breaks between entries were no longer disruptive. At that point I ended up enjoying hearing everyone’s side of the story and I really liked that each of the characters had a unique voice.

I was also initially worried that the casual feel of the journal entries would be an excuse for poor writing, in large part because the first long entry was from the perspective of a rather ditzy character. I was wrong. While that particular character was not my favorite, I did like that she was distinctive, I thought the rest of the writing was superb, and I think it got stronger as the book progressed.

Although this could be categorized as a teen romance, it’s completely avoids some of the common short comings of the genre. Sure, Persephone is in love with Hades, but she doesn’t gush or act stupidly as a result. She very seriously considers her decision to go live with him. Their attraction to each other is physical, but they both also mention loving the intelligent conversations they share. Although the story only mentions their earlier conversations, it’s enough that this doesn’t feel like insta-love. There are a few weird little things, like them jumping so quickly to discussing marriage and Persephone (generally a strong character) almost fading away when she misses her mother, but I think those are acceptable artifacts of the starting myth.

Unlike the Percy Jackson series, which mostly uses Greek mythology to provide characters, Dead Beautiful borrows a lot more. Because of that and the journal-entry format, there isn’t much world building; this is definitely a character driven story. I appreciate good world building a lot, but the characters in this book were enough fun that the focus didn’t bother me. I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes Greek mythology or re-tellings in general, as this one was very well done.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Nov 6, 2012 |
Dead Beautiful has an excellent premise: What if Persephone ran off with the bad boy (instead of being kidnapped by him)? I've always wondered that myself. What teenaged girl doesn't long for bad boys of whatever type appropriate to their time? In many ways, Hades is (like Lucifer) the ultimate bad boy.

Ms. Dugan takes this premise and runs with it in this short novel made up of journal entries written by various players in the mythology. She has a nice metaphor at the center - that the gods are basically factory owners/workers, making sure the world runs, albeit with magical powers and better art devoted to them. Within the context of the novel, this metaphor works, although it can be limiting.

Writing the novel in journal style also works and limits and it is these limits that play against the author. The difficulty with writing a novel based on letters between individuals or the journal entries of various individuals is that each voice must be very very specific. This is true in most novels, but remove exposition and voice is what's left. While there is much to like about the book, the differentiation in voices was not as well developed as I would have liked. I don't want to have to look up at the section heading to figure out who's speaking now - it takes me out of the story.

Ms. Dugan has great ideas and real potential as a writer. Over time, I suspect that these talents will come together to create a book whose potential meets its reality. ( )
  kraaivrouw | Jun 5, 2012 |
This book elicited some pretty strong feelings in me (I can't help it; I'm an all or nothing girl.) At moments, I really enjoyed this book; at moments, I kind of wanted to lob it against the wall. I think my biggest challenge with this book is that I just couldn't tell what it was: a YA novel? A YA spoof? A feminist retelling of a Greek myth? A contemporary re-envisioning of a Greek myth? Not being sure of what the novel was aiming for made it tough for me to evaluate how well Dugan achieved her goal.

Told in various voices, the story articulates the relationship between Hades and Persephone. Everyone has a chance to share their side of the story, and Dugan's angle is to embrace the modern era. Zeus is obsessed with market shares; Hades is balancing his budget so he can improve the underworld. Persephone is a smothered teenager with an overprotective mother who does her best to shield Persephone from Hera's attentions (lest Zeus' wife get into a jealous rage or something like that.).

The novel has a bit of a spoof feel to it, someone exaggerating what teenagers in YA novels sound like. At times, it's a bit funny; at times, a little tiresome. As with so much about this book, I couldn't tell if Dugan was being wryly ironic or just didn't notice what she was doing. More than halfway through the book, Persephone gripes about how all her friends talk about just boys, and clothes and music, and yet, all Persephone has groused about was Hades, other boys, the rest of the Gods, her mother. She was hardly the nuanced conversationalist but she judged her friends for being like her. I couldn't tell if Dugan was being sly here, making a nudge about someone who can't see past her own wangst, or was Dugan so enamored of her character that she didn't notice her creation's flaws?

I'm not mythology or ethnographer, so I haven't spent huge amounts of time pondering the philosophical, social, and emotional implications of myths like the Persephone, but I do know there's a great deal of debate about the rape/kidnapping of Persephone. Some feminists have tried to reclaim the tale as one of deliberate choice on the part of Persephone, and I don't mind that. However, Dugan's Persephone was emphatically teenaged and I really just couldn't shake the squick of this teenager (however millenia she's lived, her behavior has made it clear she's not making choices like an adult) with the ambigu-adult Hades. (Who was rather a dreamboat, and he needed an adult woman, not a teen, no matter what Dugan tried to say.)

Reclaiming the Greek pantheon for romantic purposes is hardly new, but Dugan's unique spin was the delightfully meta feel to her story: characters responded to each other in their respective chapters -- when Hades observes something about Zeus, Zeus snaps a comeback -- and popular culture icons like David Beckham as well as other religious icons, like Jesus, are glibly mentioned. Like this riff between Hera and Zeus:

"That's sweet," says Hera in a voice that indicates it's not sweet. "What he's really advocating is the overthrow of the status quo: the first shall be the last and the last shall be the first, or some such, and he's not talking about standing in line for Aristophanes' latest."

"Yeah, well, the system isn't perfect. It needs some adjusting."

"We are the system, you big dolt."

So, I'm torn: what worked really worked for me, and what didn't work, really didn't work for me. To each their own; there are tons of positive reviews about this one so don't take just my word for it! ( )
  unabridgedchick | May 30, 2012 |
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