by Anna-Marie McLemore
Love grows such strange things.
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.
Anna-Marie McLemore’s work, and this novel in particular, has been on my TBR for the longest time. Magical realism is a genre I’ve always found slightly intimidating since I was introduced to it in school, and it’s finally reading McLemore’s work that’s made me realise that hesitance is because I haven’t been reading magical realism that works for me – or magical realism by Latinx authors, which is a real shame when it’s a genre very much associated with Latinx literature.
Told in lush, evocative prose, Wild Beauty is a story of family, flowers and inherited guilt. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a story of what we choose to do with inherited guilt and how we can find ways to soothe old hurts without having to punish ourselves for the mistakes of those who walked the earth long before us.
In each generation of the Nomeolvides family, five daughters are born. They all know their hearts will be broken, for the gardens of La Pradera that they tend with the magic in their fingertips claims those they love. Lovers either disappear, or are chased away before they can.
When Estrella and her cousins all confess to being in love with the same woman, they give an offering to the garden to beg it to spare her and, in return, the garden delivers Fel, a boy who remembers nothing of who he is or why he might be there.
Wild Beauty is a slow story, but I flew through it and if you’ve been putting this book off because slow stories aren’t your thing I can guarantee you’ll want to keep reading this one. McLemore’s writing is gorgeous, but it’s never over-burdened or empty; every word they use matters and deserves to be there, and the story they’ve told is stunning. They manage to fit so much into what isn’t a particularly long novel, and the resulting story is so rich and satisfying.
I kept turning the pages because I needed to know who Fel was – and Fel himself was possibly my favourite character in the novel, he’s such a lovely boy – and I needed to know the mysteries of La Pradera and why the garden is so vicious to the very women who help it bloom. The answers to both of these mysteries weren’t what I expected and made me love this story even more.
I also adore this novel’s frequent and unapologetic queerness. It isn’t really a story about queerness, but it’s a story in which queerness in various forms is present and it’s something I don’t see enough in the YA I read. McLemore treats queerness the way the majority of heterosexual authors treat heterosexuality, and now I want to read everything they’ve written and everything they will write.
Wild Beauty is beautiful, and you should read it!