The October Owlcrate “Find Me in the Forest” book selection was Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore. This book is a stunning story about love, magic, and family that can only be described as a fairy tale.
The Nomeolvides women are cursed. They tend the gardens of La Pradera with their gifts, but if they run from the land, they die and if they love too deeply, their lovers vanish. Until one day, a boy appears in the garden. Shrouded in mystery, this boy changes everything for the Nomeolvides, bringing both hope and secrets that are both dangerous and magical.
While the theme for the October box was “Fine Me in the Forest,” Wild Beauty doesn’t take place in a forest; instead, it takes place among the lush, wild gardens of a fancy estate. This book is chock full of lovely descriptions, both about the gardens and about the ladies who make the gardens thrive. While some people may not enjoy the flowery language, I never felt like the writing style was overbearing. A few times it did trip me up and I wasn’t sure if something happened on not—such as if two characters sleep together or simply fall asleep next to each other in the same bed or whether something is physically happening or figuratively. Still, the prose is beautiful and definitely a highlight of the book.
The relationship between the five Nomeolvides cousins was vibrant as well. Sibling and faux-sibling relationships are one of my favorite elements in books, and Wild Beauty definitely has a wonderful sister-like cousin group. The camaraderie between the girls felt genuine. Sometimes, however, the other four cousins fell into the background and they weren’t as developed as Estrella. I would have liked to see more of their individual reactions, instead of them being grouped together (though, that was often to prove a point about how they’re treated). Wild Beauty felt like it was just the tip of the iceberg with these characters and this world, which is slightly disappointing since this book is barely over 300 pages. I think it could have definitely been expanded to include more depth to the characters and world-building.
Other than the rich gardens, the world-building felt a bit off. I could never pinpoint what time period the story took place or where it took place, other than a fancy estate. But other aspects of the story made up for it, such as the Nomeolvides curse and magic and the history of the estate. I didn’t have to see Majorie Briar in action to know who she was. I didn’t need to have every single detail of the history of the estate to understand that the Nomeolvides family had been there for over a century. The story that unfolded as a result of the characters dug deep into the heart of what it means to love, what it means to lose, and what it means to be family. Even the most simplistic moments in the story had profound enlightenment.
Wild Beauty, at its heart, is a character driver story. Because of this, the story often moved slowly. There wasn’t a whole lot of action or thrilling moments. I never quite felt bored with the story, but it did take me a while to get into it. Once I got past the exposition, though,I read most of the book fairly quickly since it was an easy read.
This book includes a lot of diverse representation from a main cast of people of color (that are also bilingual) to bisexual characters. While I felt it was a bit of a stretch that all five cousins were in love with the same girl (and then we learn some of the mothers/aunts also were bisexual), I can see that Wild Beauty has the potential to be empowering to the right audience. It revels in the strength of the characters and what they do with their abilities. It focuses on family and culture above wealth and privilege. It takes root in being comfortable with who you are.
Overall, Wild Beauty is full of beautiful prose and beautiful people, even if there were slow moments or a desire for more story. I would recommend this book to anybody who loves language and words or is seeking books with diverse representation. Upon finishing, I thought to myself that the Nomeolovides ladies are what the Amazons from the Wonder Woman comic books and movie would be like if they tended gardens instead of trained to be warriors and were Spanish instead of Greek. Aka they’re amazing.