Cecil Castellucci -- indie-rock star, young adult author, and all round cool-ass polymath -- has joined forces with illustrator Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) to produce The Year of the Beasts, an extraordinary hybrid of young adult novel and graphic novel. Beasts is the story of Tessa and her younger sister Lulu, townie girls in a place where holidaymakers come for the summer, and the year they discovered boys. The carnival comes to town every June, and Tessa and Lulu go, and it is young Lulu, not Tessa, who finds herself kissing Charlie, the boy that Tessa has had a crush on forever. The summer yawns before them, as the sisters and their friends navigate the stormy, irrational seas of romance and hormones and coming of age, in a prose narrative that lays its characters' hearts raw and bare in that way that Castellucci is so good at.
Interleaved with these prose chapters are chapters from an allegorical graphical story, a comic about a girl who has become an avatar of Medusa and must attend high-school, despite the fact that when the scarf covering her snake-hair slips, she turns her schoolmates to stone, just as she has done to her parents. These comic-book chapters are a mystery to be solved by the riddle, which comes together in the final chapter.
Year of the Beasts is one of those stories whose earlier chapters are a kind of greased slide that makes the reader hurtle faster and faster toward an unseen landing, hinting at different possibilities until the climax is revealed in a thunderbolt, and it is at once inevitable, unforeseen, and terrible.