Title: Wild Beauty
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: October 3rd 2017
“For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.
The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.“
“Fireflies lit the flowers, drawn by the damp air and mild scent of azaleas and dahlias. During the hottest summer months, Estrella and her cousins slept in the afternoons and woke at dusk, gardening by the lightning bugs’ glow.”
Anna-Marie McLemore’s Wild Beauty is as complex as it is beautiful. Estrella and her cousins are part of a long legacy of Nomeolvides women who have cultivated the La Pradera gardens for the last century. Flowers bloom and flourish under their fingertips at will, but their enchanting gift is not the only inheritance passed down from mother to daughter. For the Nomeolvides women, their love is a curse upon the men they love. They either watch them disappear, some vanishing right before their lover’s eyes, or watch them walk away, never to be heard from again. When Fel, a mysterious boy, appears in their garden with no memory of who he is, the Nomeolvides women believe his arrival may mean the return of their past lovers. But Fel’s quest to discover who he is will uncover dark truths that will change the Nomeolvides women’s lives forever.
McLemore once again dazzles with her storytelling ability. With lush and intimate descriptions, the gardens of La Pradera come to life. The setting is equal parts magical and strange. There is both darkness and light in the Nomeolvides’s world that the author is expert at exploring. The women in Wild Beauty are well-rounded and engaging. I loved how the author let’s the reader learn more about these young women as they learn about themselves. When the novel opens, Estrella and her cousins are desperate to outrun their family curse. Though history says that it is only men that disappear, none of them want to take the risk when it comes to Bay Briar. Bay has been a part of their world forever and ever since she lost her grandmother, who owned the land the Nomeolvides have cared for for generations, they feel even more protective of her. When they all discover that each of them has fallen a little in love with her, they take action, sacrificing their greatest treasures to La Pradera in exchange for Bay’s safety. McLemore focuses on the alienation these young women experience because of their gift, but she also explores how the possibility of finding love can alienate them from one another. It’s a consequence predicated on the idea that love is something that will eventually caused them pain.
Fel adds another wrinkle to the story. The ease at which the Nomeolvides women welcome him into their family filled me with so much affection for them. Though sadness is ingrained in their world, it is their love for one another that motivates and drives them. There’s a growing affection between Fel and these women. They care for him like one of their own and he in turn feels the need to protect them. He wants to discover who he is, but there’s a part of him that is afraid of the truth and what this will mean for his relationship with these women. Estrella and her family are an ensemble I’d like to see more often. There are three generations of Nomeolvides women under the same roof who are joined by and large by their shared grief, but are inevitably separated by experience. While the older generations know grief intimately, the younger ones have not yet lost someone they love. The older women have walked this life for decades. They know what it’s like to love and grieve, to watch those closest to them crumble under the weight of loss, and what it’s like to give everything to the land that has both blessed and cursed them. Estrella and her cousins are only beginning to learn what it means to be a part of the Nomeolvides family.
Wild Beauty is a multi-layered story that will have readers enthralled from the very first page. McLemore has crafted a novel that devastates readers both with its beauty and sorrow in equal parts. If you’ve never picked up this author’s novels, you are missing out on some of the most profound and stunning writing published in recent years.