'Dead Beautiful', a YA paranormal romance is an interesting idea, sort of a like a rough uncut gem, but instead of being cut and polished is set out on display with the flashy stuff which only shows its flaws all the more.
The main character is Renee Winters, a young California girl who on the day of her sixteenth birthday discovers her parent's bodies hidden away in the woods. The circumstances of their deaths is highly irregular- there's no signs of outward trauma, pieces of cloth are wadded up in their mouths and coins are scattered around their bodies. Her maternal grandfather, long since estranged from the family is appointed her guardian and decides to send her off to the Gottfried Academy, an exclusive boarding school in Maine, which she learns is something of a family tradition. She's slow to adapt to her new life yet quickly succeeds in gaining the attentions of the most desirable boy at the school- Dante Berlin- who oddly enough ignored every other girl until Renee came along. *yawn*
Gottfried Academy has an unsettling history, capped off with the death of a student the previous term, a death almost exactly like that of Renee's parents. She begins investigating the school while exploring her feelings for the enigmatically obscure Dante and makes some chilling discoveries about the true nature of Gottfried Academy. An unusual accident befalls her roommate the aftermath of which truly crystallizes things for Renee.
Strange things continue to happen at the school, culminating in a confrontation with Dante which finally unravels the secrecy surrounding the school. But will she be able to survive the revelations it brings?
The cover photo is a nice tease; though its clearly part of the UF and PNR genres it leads you believe the book is about something other than it is. The pacing of this book is summed up in the title- dead. Far too much time is spent on endless inner monologues before wandering off into the clichés: both parents dying mysteriously, the enigmatic and estranged grandparent who now controls her life, gothic-themed exclusive school isolated in the backwoods of New England, hunky school heart-throb who's only attracted to the main character, etc. And then it returns to more endless inner monologues. You can't help but think the story would've been better served in the third-person to give a more complete picture of events. And the faux-goth names of the characters are laughable: Calysta Von Laark, Dante Berlin, Yago Castilliar and my personal favorite- Gabrielle Tart. All we needed was a Harker or a Van Helsing to round things out.
As far as the mysteries within Gottfried Academy itself there's precious little to wonder about. Once the story moves onto the school grounds, it has the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the kneecaps. Everything about the academy, its faculty and the curriculum are so focused and centered upon death with a capital 'D' you're almost wondering why its not a Special Needs school since no one other that Renee ever wonders about it or puts anything together. You can already tell what's happening and there's nothing to wonder about other than the details, which get tossed at you in a typically rushed ending. Less time spent on the endless wangsting about Dante's eyes, hair and overall perfection would've helped things along. And though there's a significant reason for Dante's obsessive attraction to Renee, it still came across as flat and forced, especially the way the ending was handled.
'Dead Beautiful' has some interesting ideas for the latest sidetrek in the UF genre, but it needs a lot of work to bring it up to speed. This is another case of YA being equated with 'dumbed-down', and it shows in the material.