Beast by Brie Spangler, Alfred A. Knopf, October, 2016. ISBN: 9781101937167. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.
Dylan has some large roadblocks between happiness and his daily life. One is his size. At fifteen, he’s well over six feet and weighs close to 250. It’s not fat, he’s big like his dad…His late dad who died of cancer when he was three. It’s just him and his mother, still living in the house his parents bought and had such dreams for. Then there’s his appearance. He’s hairy, really, really hairy, hence the nickname his best (and only) friend JP, gave him. Because of it, everyone has called him Beast for years.
Inside, he’s not really different from the rest of his classmates. He has fears, crushes and is above average intellectually, but has found himself a literal prisoner of his best friend, who uses emotional blackmail to get Dylan to strong arm other teens who owe JP money. JP’s no saint, but readers get an inkling of what makes him tick, thanks to his conversations with both Dylan and his mother. JP’s family is rich in money, but poverty-stricken in nurture and family warmth. In fact, he’s lived in a fancy tree house in his back yard for years.
When junior year starts, a new edict—no hats, no long hair, coupled with a really cruel act by JP lands Dylan on the roof outside his bedroom window and he breaks his leg in the resulting fall. Mom’s worried that it was a suicide attempt, and her worry lands him in a teen therapy group. It’s there he meets Jamie who is beautiful, funny and transgender. Unfortunately, he missed hearing her share that in group because he was in a major self-pity mode.
How he and Jamie navigate the uneasy path of attraction, gender issues, JP’s manipulative behavior, Dylan’s desperate wish for a cosmic sign, not to mention two moms who are on 24/7 helicopter status because of fears that their child will come to a bad end, make this a very hard book to put down. Despite language and one sex scene, it’s a very good book for school and public libraries to consider adding.