Beautiful and Terrible Things


Fiction - Literary
432 Pages
Reviewed on 05/28/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Ruffina Oserio for Readers' Favorite

In Beautiful and Terrible Things by S.M. Stevens, early in the summer of 2018, Charley's mundane routine is disrupted by encounters with death and a mysterious stranger. Her morning jog is interrupted by the sight of a dead squirrel, triggering reflections on responsibility and mortality. At work, she has awkward interactions with Xander, a charismatic activist. Meanwhile, Xander and his colleague Terrance celebrate a victory against a corporate giant. As the storm rages outside, Charley is beset with existential fears, unaware of the subtle impact Xander has had on her life. Her fear dissipates as she gets closer to Xander, and as their friendship deepens, she even participates in protests. But betrayal soon threatens to upend her life, and she might even lose her beloved bookstore, which is the one thing that has held her life together. Can Xander and the circle of friends she has learned to cherish save her from depression and rescue her bookstore?

Beautiful and Terrible Things brilliantly articulates contemporary social issues, featuring characters with different ethnicities and backgrounds. The protagonist is genuinely flawed, and readers instantly sympathize with her inner struggles. There is excitement in watching her evolve and emerge from her shell. The conversations between Charley and Xander help Charley confront her past traumas and rediscover herself, while Xander's exuberance and compassion offer her a glimmer of hope. Their evolving friendship hints at the possibility of healing and connection amid life's uncertainties and challenges. The emotional fallout among friends, mainly Xander's disappointment and Charley's sense of betrayal, is palpable. Amidst the turmoil, memories of happier times provide a bittersweet contrast, highlighting the depth of their relationship. Through vivid descriptions and dialogue, the author creates emotionally rich, often tense, and heartwarming scenes. One such moment is the description of the panic and uncertainty surrounding Jess and coworkers. The unfolding events create a sense of urgency and dread. Beautiful and Terrible Things by S.M. Stevens is a compelling literary novel with resonant themes and characters that stay with readers after the last page is turned. The pathos is balanced by bittersweet moments.