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.
I loved this book, so much. With magical realism everything feels a bit like a fairy-tale and it's all a bit out of reach. Almost like it's intangible. If it is done really well it is amazing, and McLemore definitely did it well with Wild Beauty. You have to suspend your disbelief and accept the world as it is described, even if it is a little confusing. I think that is one of the more challenging things for me when it comes to magical realism so it takes me a little bit of time to get into the story. But once I got into Wild Beauty, I was hooked.
The writing is the most beautiful part of this book. It feels rich and vibrant without being over the top and heavy. Like I said earlier, I was confused at some aspects of the story, but it was the writing and the mystery behind what was happening that kept me reading. The concept of the story was also something I found really unique and captivating.
It wasn't until I really put the book down and thought about it that I realized how important this book is and how clever it is with the themes and topics it touches upon. There's amazing bisexual representation that honestly blew me away. The Nomeolvides women are cursed to lives of growing beautiful flowers and nature outside of them and everybody they love vanish. The main character, Estrella, like her family, has the talent to grow beautiful flowers by touching the ground but she feels like she is poison, unable to fully love because of the curse on her family. Her, along with her five cousins, all love another girl on the island named Bay. She also starts feeling for the boy that appears one day. I think the romance was extremely well done. I like that the cousins, although the five of them loved Bay, never let that affect their relationships with each other. It wasn't an annoying petty competition type romance, it was just how it was and the five women all treated each other with respect. The majority cast of characters (everyone besides Bay and her family) are beautifully written brown women and men. I cannot speak on the representation as a white person, but from the reviews and responses I have read online I've been given the impression that it's well written. For the bisexual representation, which I can speak for, is really beautifully done. Wild Beauty also touches upon immigration and the way immigrants were and are treated. Once again, I am not one to talk about if the representation is accurate, but from what I read I felt like the topics such as cultural erasure and appropriation, inhumane treatment and work conditions, and just racism in general all felt genuine and meaningful.
One of the weaker parts of the book for me are the characters. The points of view in this book are between Estrella, our main character, and Fel, the boy who appeared suddenly. Because we are in their POVs, we do get to know them more than the other characters, but not as much as I'd like. Especially Estrella. At least with Fel I think we got some idea of who he is as we get to know him. The cousins, for me, were a bit interchangeable at times. It is brought up how the five cousins almost act like one being at times, and I do feel like that came through, it just affected the reader getting to know each girl's personality. Bay almost didn't have a personality at all. I couldn't explain to you why the five cousins loved her, because I felt like we didn't know her at all. I at least felt the connection between Fel and Estrella. And forget about the five mothers and five grandmothers. I think the book was written so beautifully that it took up too much room in the book to really flesh out the characters. I am definitely someone who prefers character driven stories vs. plot driven so I think that was an issue with how much I cared about the characters. But even with the lack of connection I felt with Estrella, Fel, and the whole Nomeolvides family, I still felt myself really rooting for them to be okay by the end. So I must have somehow found something I connected to them with, or I wouldn't have cared.
That was my biggest problem with the book. I did find it to be a bit confusing at times and I think it's a book you need to read again and again to fully get everything (which, believe me, I plan on doing) but that's mostly it. I suppose Fel and Estrella had a bit (okay, a lot) of insta-love but their relationship didn't bother me. I didn't find it to be over dramatic. I love that the plot is heavily focused on family and love. I am so appreciative of the bi rep and I fell in love with McLemore's writing.
Overall, I highly recommend Wild Beauty! I think knowing that it's magical realism, which for the most part can be more slower paced, is an important thing to know before going into the story. If you're in the mood for a very gay, diverse, and beautiful read I say pick up Wild Beauty.