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Belles by Jen Calonita was a true pleasure to read. Told in dual narratives from the point of view of North Carolina Southern cousins Isabelle (or Izzie) and Mirabelle (or Mira), this is definitely a light, fun, spring or summer-time read, a story of family secrets, prejudices, overcoming obstacles, and heart-felt romance. I actually sat on my back porch reading this one, soaking up the sun, and the story of Izzie and Mira. I was instantly drawn to Izzie, who, although she does grow a bit over the course of Belles, is already a mature, sensible, compassionate, loyal person when the story starts; Izzie has spent the last few years taking care of her Grams, who helped raise her, but is slowly descending into Alzheimer's. When Izzie's social worker reveals that her Grams, before she lost her facilities, had arranged for Izzie to go live with her uncle and his family a few towns over, Izzie has to leave behind the only life she's ever known, and despite the kindness of her new family, she quickly feels like an outsider in her new life - complete with a mansion, a private school, and a new social ladder to climb.
Mira, on the other hand, is a bit tougher to categorize. Mira lives a comfortable life, and Izzie's arrival tilts Mira's world upside down. Mira is a member of the popular crowd and she dates a handsome football player, but over the course of Belles it is Mira's personal growth that is really admirable and a joy to watch. Mira has never dared push the bubble she lives in, hasn't ever stood up to her beset friend, mean girl Savannah, or looked past the surface of her relationship with her boyfriend. As Mira struggles to accept her cousin for who she is, she also strives to come to terms with both the life she has, and going after the life she wants.
The plot of Belles is, although somewhat predictable at times, no less adorable and uplifting because of it. Watching both Mira and Izzie try to accept the changes and challenges in their life put a smile on my face by the end of Belles. There were times that both girls made a few questionable decisions, yet in their situations, I can't say if I would have made a smarter choice or not! I cheered a lot for Izzie over the course of the story, and definitely for Mira, too. Belles made me laugh, made me tear up once or twice, and made me fall in love with a few of the secondary characters, like Brayden, Hayden, and Kellen. (I totally didn't pick up on the rhyming names until the end...HEE.) I giggled like crazy over a few of the more romantic moments, and sobered up, breathless, over the reveals throughout the book.
Jen Calonita knows how to write a compelling novel, for sure. I had a few quibbles with Belles though - and one of them was that several of the characters felt rather flat. This didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book, but it was definitely something that I noticed. Savannah and some of the other girls were vapid and one-dimensional; Savannah uttered one of the most insipid and insane lines I've ever heard from a literary character (I was so enraged I tweeted about it!) And there were two or three moments when the point of view would randomly switch to another character's - once to Brayden, once to a teacher, etc. To me this was definitely something an editor should have caught. And the big reveal at the end wasn't anything too huge considering there were several clues dropped throughout the novel; however, it did certainly make everything more interesting!
However, Belles was a great read, full of laughter, smile-worthy moments, and a lovely story of a blended family. Belles touched my heart, and I will definitely be looking forward to the sequel!