Review: Dead Beautiful

I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Dead BeautifulDead Beautiful by Melanie Dugan
Published by Upstart Press on May 1, 2012
Genres: Humor, Mythology
Pages: 165
Format: ARC
Source: TLC Book Tours

Dead Beautiful is a contemporary retelling of the classic Greek myth of Persephone. This was the myth the Greeks used to explain how we came to have the change of seasons. In the traditional version of the myth, Persephone – the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of agriculture and fertility, and Zeus, the top god on Olympus – is abducted one day by Hades, God of the Underworld (which is also called Hades).
Demeter refuses to do her job until her daughter is returned to her, and the earth is plunged into the first winter: no crops grow, cold settles on the earth. It turns out that while in Hades, Persephone has eaten six pomegranate seeds. As a result, for six months of the year, she must live with Hades; this is when it is fall and winter on earth. For six months she lives with her mother – then we have spring and summer.
Dead Beautiful asks, what if Persephone, like many adolescent girls, didn’t tell her mother the whole truth? What if Hades didn’t abduct her? What if she made the decision to go with him? (She is, after all, 18 millennia old.)
The result is a novel that examines the complex dynamics between mothers and daughters, and explores the challenges faced by young women as they move from childhood into adulthood and independence. It is smart, fast-paced, funny and profound; a book that will appeal to women young and old, to mothers and daughters.

First Sentence: “I knew he’d be the death of me.”

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. If you’re interested in Dugan’s novel, I would recommend that you purchase an ebook version (which I notice is free for the kindle right now), as the text in the print copy is really small and will likely be difficult for those that do not have really good vision.

Favorite Quote:

“‘That’s what making a choice is about — taking a gamble. Choice, chance — it’s no coincidence the words sound similar.’”

10 responses to “Review: Dead Beautiful”

  1. Nori says:

    I love Greek mythology, and what you said about her having her own take of the tale definitely has me interested! Also, the different points of views of the gods had me interested too. My favorite Greek myths: anything with Athena or Medusa.

  2. Nikki says:

    I’m a big fan of mythology so I’m excited to see this author’s take on the story of Persephone.

  3. trish says:

    So glad you enjoyed it! I like the idea of tweaking things just a bit — enough so the change is obvious, but not so much that the change makes a character unrecognizable.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  4. London Judge says:

    I love greek mythology and I am actually going to Greece this summer! I love any stories having to do with Athena, she is my favorite goddess 🙂 Thanks for the giveaway!

  5. Adriane says:

    I love greek mythology! sounds very interesting!!!!

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