The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale

“Perhaps this was one of the things that had made her so different all along—that she saw the truth of things. That beauty could sometimes be ugly, and that you didn’t always find good and evil where you expected to—or where you’d been told to find them.”

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A girl with a secret talent must save her village from the encroaching darkness in this haunting and deeply satisfying tale.

Alys was seven when the soul eaters came to her village.

These soul eaters, twin sisters who were abandoned by their father and slowly morphed into something not quite human, devour human souls. Alys, and all the other children, were spared—and they were sent to live in a neighboring village. There the devout people created a strict world where good and evil are as fundamental as the nursery rhymes children sing. Fear of the soul eaters—and of the Beast they believe guides them—rule village life. But the Beast is not what they think it is. And neither is Alys.

Inside, Alys feels connected to the soul eaters, and maybe even to the Beast itself. As she grows from a child to a teenager, she longs for the freedom of the forest. And she has a gift she can tell no one, for fear they will call her a witch. When disaster strikes, Alys finds herself on a journey to heal herself and her world. A journey that will take her through the darkest parts of the forest, where danger threatens her from the outside—and from within her own heart and soul.

DISCLAIMERI was gifted an ARC by a friend, and it is possible parts of my review do not line up with the finished copy.


CW: animal death, loss of a loved one, child abuse, child death, racism, miscarriages, alcoholism

Going into The Beast is an Animal was an uncertain sort of process, because it’s hard to say exactly what genre this book lies in. For some of its aspects, you could call it fantasy. For others, it has a historical flavor, especially in the style of the prose. Really, when it comes down to it, it has the air of a legend, one often repeated as a warning as much as it is a hint of hope for a better future.

It’s also somewhat unusual in that it follows the main character, Alys, from the time she’s seven years old, to shortly before she turns sixteen. It’s not a complete account of those nine years, but it does make for an atypical timeline, especially these days, when YA often moves at a sharp clip, with plots closer to nine days long rather than nine years.

For all its odd features, though, I think it’s still a good book, especially if you’re aiming to read something that’s got a dash of eeriness mixed with the burning desire to see an entire group of people be proven wrong. Pitting the thrall of the unknown world and the question of right and wrong up against the power and influence of a town that functions far more like a cult makes for a brilliant tug-o-war for Alys as she grows up and has to confront her past and her waning future. The obstacles in her way really appealed to me, in the sense that I wanted her to break free with a total triumph, to escape the forces that were trying to box her in, control her, destroy her. In some ways, she did so. In other ways, she had a more quiet victory.

I did find, however, that the first two thirds of the book was stronger and more tightly written than the last third, which suddenly introduces a love interest while simultaneously removing the story element that I felt introduced the most tension into Alys’s life. I don’t know how different the finished copy is in that respect, but the ARC I read certainly slowed down in that final third rather than delivering a decisive conclusion.

At least it did conclude all of its plot lines, though, and in mostly positive ways, which I wasn’t quite expecting. While the pacing and the sudden introduction of the LI left me a little disappointed, the overall arc of the story and the paths that led there were worth my time. Plus, the unusual style of the prose and the fact that The Beast is an Animal felt so unconventional compared to a lot of the YA books I already read makes it a solid read. Maybe I won’t find myself gushing over it for years to come, but I know I’ve left the story feeling that my time was well spent, and that’s valuable in its own right.

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