Book review: Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon

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Dead Beautiful...dead sexy. A kiss so dangerous and so full of desire that it takes your breath away.

Yvonne Woon’s young adult novel raises gothic romance to dizzy new heights; a dazzling debut that blends elements of Twilight, Romeo and Juliet, Ghost and heart-melting fantasy into one big, beautiful, bewitching story.

Girl meets boy at a remote boarding school where strange customs, a curriculum based on 2,000-year-old teachings and a famous ‘curse’ hide dark secrets - and the only language that matters is the language of the dead.

If you are already thinking vampires, witches, werewolves and demons, forget it because Dead Beautiful is something more skilful, more sophisticated and much more subtle.

Woon’s tense, spine-tingling teen thriller really does breathe new life into the dark corridors of the paranormal with its to-die-for love affair and the added dimension of some cleverly worked ideas based on ancient mythology, Roman ritual, Greek tragedy and the philosophy of Descartes.

Sixteen-year-old Renée Winters has only ever known the sunshine of California, but one hot afternoon she finds the pale and frozen bodies of her parents lying amongst rotten leaves in the tall redwood forest.

They bear no visible signs of injury – no bruises, no blood – but coins are scattered all around them and shards of white gauze have been stuffed in their mouths.

The cause of their deaths is recorded as simultaneous heart attacks due to a hiking accident but Renée is unconvinced.

After the funeral, the bewildered and heartbroken girl is whisked away from her home by her grandfather and enrolled at the mysterious Gottfried Academy, a centuries-old boarding school dedicated to the study of Latin, metaphysical meditation, imaginary arithmetic and crude sciences.

It is within the sprawling quadrangles and massive dark brick buildings of Gottfried that Renée will begin to make sense of who she is and what she is fated to become.

Her destiny, she senses, is inextricably linked to the handsome and enigmatic Dante Berlin, a brilliant Latin prodigy who makes her feel more alive than anyone she has ever known.

Dante rapidly becomes her obsession, the love of her life...when he touches her, the world blurs and sounds and smells and tastes collide into an unrecognisable dissonance.

But he never kisses her lips and only when she discovers the reason why will Renée unlock the secrets of love, life and death.

Dead Beautiful is an intelligent, well-written, fresh and original story of forbidden love with a sensational double twisting cliffhanger that is guaranteed to break young hearts everywhere.

The hottest read around for cool teens.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)