Spooner, Meagan. Hunted. New York, NY: Harper Teen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. Print.
Like most of America, I saw Beauty and the Beast last weekend.
And, unsurprisingly, I loved it. I gushed over Emma Watson’s performance and hummed “Be Our Guest” for days. That’s why I was particularly delighted to receive a signed copy of Hunted—a Beauty and the Beast retelling—in this month’s Uppercase Box.
Side note—if you love books, surprises, and receiving mail, I urge you to learn more about Uppercase. It’s a young adult book-of-the-month subscription service, and each box arrives with a signed novel and plenty of bookish extras. I’ve received stickers and posters that I’ve displayed in my classroom, along with jewelry, socks, magnets, bookmarks, etc. I like it so much, in fact, that when my gift subscription ended last month, I promptly renewed it.
While the timing was certainly perfect, Meagan Spooner’s Hunted is a far cry from any Disney movie. The novel’s protagonist, Yeva, is a Katniss Everdeen-esque huntress who prefers the serenity of the woods and the thrill of the hunt to the snobbery of high society. She lives in relative comfort with her hunter-turned-merchant father, two older sisters, faithful hunting dogs, and an assortment of servants. Unfortunately, a failed business venture forces the family to sell their belongings and move to an isolated hunting cabin. There, the sisters live in squalor, and Yeva’s father retreats to the woods, determined to kill a predator big enough to pay their debts and restore their wealth.
With her father gone for extended periods of time, Yeva begins venturing out to hunt small game, becoming the family’s sole provider. When her father returns home seemingly crazed before disappearing once again, Yeva decides to go after him, much to the horror of her sisters and Solmir, a young man who seeks her hand in marriage. Yeva eventually finds her father’s body, but has little time to process the scene before she is incapacitated by a large, ferocious beast.
When she finally comes to, Yeva is shackled in a cold dungeon. Initially kept in darkness or blindfolded, Yeva believes she is being befriended by a fellow captive. When she learns that she has been communicating with the human-like Beast—a creature that she assumes to be her father’s murderer—she becomes enraged and begins to formulate a way to kill him and have her revenge. But Beast has plans for Yeva as well, revealing that he needs a skilled hunter and refusing to tell her anything further. While Beast trains Yeva in archery and tracking, Yeva dreams of catching him unawares and ending his life. But, as time passes, questions begin to emerge: Why does a creature as formidable as Beast need Yeva’s assistance? Is Beast more human or animal? Is he actually responsible for the death of Yeva’s father? Why does Yeva feel such a pull toward Beast despite her imprisonment and longing to return to her family?
Although I love Belle (a book lover after my own heart), Spooner’s Yeva is less victim and more warrior. Her thirst for adventure coupled with her resistance to bend to society’s conventions makes her an intriguing protagonist and unique character. Beast, too, is described in a way that presents his dual nature. Flicks of his tail or the movements of his ears showcase his animal emotions; the inflection of his voice and the tenderness of his actions reveals his humanity. Spooner is also adept at describing Yeva’s world. Snowy forest floors, dilapidated castles, and fantastic creatures all come to life in her capable hands.
In a novel as sprawling as Hunted, it is perhaps expected that some characters will fall to the wayside or come across flat. Yeva’s sisters are one-dimensional, and it sometimes feels as though they are present only to serve as a tame foil to their daring youngest sister. Other characters played such an insignificant role that I wondered why they were included in the book at all: Yeva’s rarely mentioned hunting dog Pelei, for example, or Borovoi, a shape-shifting fox that Yeva encounters on her quest to help Beast, or Albe, a sheepish servant that Yeva claims to love like a brother.
Having recently finished a unit on different literary genres, I feel Hunted would be a welcome addition to my classroom library. Yeva mentions several fairy tale characteristics—for example, she references the “rule of three”, reminding herself that she will likely face three trials or communicate with three creatures before her task is finished. Hunted, like any good fairy tale, also leaves its reader with a moral or life lesson: Can desire be dangerous? Does our need to acquire more lead to our downfall? This book is a great way to discuss what makes us human and how we can extend a little humanity to others.