Death has always been a part of Renee's life. Since she was little, she's stumbled upon dead insects and deceased wildlife, drawn to their final resting places by a sensation she can't really describe. It's not until she finds the bodies of her parents, dead according to a heart attack but surrounded by items of ritual significance, that death truly changes her life.
Renee is sent to Gottfried Academy, located in a remote town in Maine, by her grandfather and guardian in the hope she will find some semblance of peace being so far away from the scene of her parent's tragic end. Here, however, she encounters unusual school customs, an odd curriculum with an extreme focus on the study of Latin, and a beautiful and bizarre young man named Dante Berlin.
For Renee, death has always been in close proximity, but at Gottfried she'll be closer to it than ever before. Secrets abound, rumors of a curse haunt the school's history, and Dante seems to be withholding a very important piece of himself, leaving Renee alone to search for answers as death nips at her heels.
Dead Beautiful is shrouded in melancholy, fascinating in it's eeriness and grimly breathtaking in it's potential to weave a unique and original tale. The stones comprising the outer walls of Gottfried seem to hum with the confidences they are forced to keep, the campus itself dark, etched with reminders of a decidedly unpleasant history. The setting is beautifully depicted, enhancing a feeling of sorrow and providing a mysterious base upon which to build a captivating story. It does however, take a good bit of time to work through some rather superfluous verbiage and uncover the story beneath. We are initially bombarded with detailed descriptions of characters, landscapes, and architecture which, while exquisite in nature, make for a slow-moving introduction to the plot.
The relationship between Dante and Renee is unfortunately rather trite and common in the midst of a story brimming with a new and interesting folklore. Dante is your typical dark, brooding, and inhumanly beautiful loner who takes notice of no one until the arrival of our female protagonist. Upon meeting her, his previous aloofness melts away instantly as they are inexplicably drawn to one another, stealing forbidden moments alone and sharing intense, heated moments of innocent touching. Renee, for her part, fails to shed the starstruck teenage girl mold as she begins to live and breathe for her moments with Dante and never adds a new layer to the first love scenario though we continually hope for it.
As much as the beginning is slow in it's building of a cryptic and puzzling conflict, the ending seems unusually hurried and jumbled as events tumble from the pages in rapid succession, leaving us wishing for some semblance of the calm previously in place. Because this story does have ingenuity, the unconventional aspects of Ms. Woon's supernatural world need some additional explaining. It's not necessary for every facet to be wrapped up in a box of detailed explanations, but given the amount of information we are provided in the beginning of the story pertaining to items not intrinsic to the plot, a little more illumination of certain pertinent events toward the end would have been welcome.
Just as we come to learn the one element that begins to shift Renee and Dante's relationship from commonplace to something a little more atypical and thus infinitely more interesting, our connection to them is severed by an abrupt ending, leaving us confused and completely uncertain of the future. Some may appreciate the open-ended nature of the resolution, but a modicum of more absolute knowledge would have changed the ending from disconcerting to playfully teasing.
Overall, this story has a unique premise and two individuals with the potential to separate themselves from the masses of paranormal characters to become memorable, there are just a few complications in the story preventing that progression.