REVIEW: The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips
Lemony Snicket meets Roald Dahl in this riotously funny, deliciously macabre, and highly illustrated tale of a hungry beast, a vain immortal man, and a not-so-charming little girl who doesn’t know she’s about to be eaten.
Beauty comes at a price. And no one knows that better than Ebenezer Tweezer, who has stayed beautiful for 511 years. How, you may wonder? Ebenezer simply has to feed the beast in the attic of his mansion. In return for meals of performing monkeys, statues of Winston Churchill, and the occasional cactus, Ebenezer gets potions that keep him young and beautiful, as well as other presents.
But the beast grows ever greedier with each meal, and one day he announces that he’d like to eat a nice, juicy child next. Ebenezer has never done anything quite this terrible to hold onto his wonderful life. Still, he finds the absolutely snottiest, naughtiest, and most frankly unpleasant child he can and prepares to feed her to the beast.
The child, Bethany, may just be more than Ebenezer bargained for. She’s certainly a really rather rude houseguest, but Ebenezer still finds himself wishing she didn’t have to be gobbled up after all. Could it be Bethany is less meal-worthy and more…friend-worthy?
Dear Mr. Meggitt-Phillips,
Or perhaps I should just call you Jackmegg the way the Beast does? Anyway, though I’ve never read any Lemony Snickets and only a few Roald Dahl stories, I was delighted when I read the blurb for this book. This sounded like something a little dark, a little off beat, a little … delicious. Something the Beast would enjoy. And it was. Oooh it was.
Though this is listed as “children’s fiction” at netgalley, I would think long and hard about letting younger children read it. There is death – including Ebenezer Tweezer feeding a live bird to the Beast and telling Bethany how he once fed his beloved cat to the Beast just so that he – Ebenezer – would continue to get his youth potion and not die. Yeppers, Ebenezer is not the mere lackey he seems to think he is. When the Beast says jump, Ebenezer yells “how high” in ways that might include him having to feed it more living creatures. Plus Ebenezer’s original plan is to get a child – any child – as the Beast’s next dinner request.
After 511 years, Ebenezer doesn’t feel guilt anymore. He has everything he wants except that he only gets a year’s supply at a time of his youth potion and he abhors the thought of getting old and wrinkly. Since he never has to worry about anything, he’s stopped thinking of how other people in the world have problems. When he initially balks at providing a plump, snotty nosed child, the Beast warns him that without the potion, Ebenezer will not just age but quickly whither to nothing but 511 year old bones. That puts some pep in Ebenezer’s step to go find the Beast’s desired meal. But it isn’t until he has to choose a child from an orphanage that he begins to develop some guilt. Passing over the nice, friendly ones who want a family, he decides to pick the worst behaved brat he can find.
Bethany is awful. She plays mean pranks, she steals a boy’s comics after stuffing worms up his nose, she yells, she mocks Ebenezer, she tells the Beast what she thinks of it (she starts with its smell and goes from there) despite Ebenezer warning her that the Beast doesn’t like that, then she demands chocolate cake – a lot of it. Plus she takes such joy in what she does with no remorse at all. Ebenezer, however, discovers a reverse psychology way to deal with her. He develops A Cunning Plan.
After the Beast plays a cruel prank on her though, a few rays of decency glimmer out of Bethany. She’s mean, she readily admits that, but she doesn’t want to be as mean as the Beast. She even asks Ebenezer to take her back to the orphanage so she can apologize though later she tells him that it didn’t make her feel as good as adults always promise children that doing it will.
Ebenezer’s sense of guilt grows a little bit more as even he is appalled at what the Beast did (and he’s been living with the Beast for almost 500 years and didn’t balk at a lot of mean things). But the youth potion isn’t going to make itself and Ebenezer still plans on feeding Bethany to the Beast after he’s got her fattened up a little. Yet he can try and make her last day a bit better including working on her bucket list. Ebenezer and Bethany have so much fun that Ebenezer decides that if he ever has to feed the Beast another child, he’ll let that kid have a bucket list day, too. Will Bethany be fat enough by the end of the week when Ebenezer needs his youth potion? Will Ebenezer be willing to toss her in the Beast’s slavering mouth? If not, what will the Beast unleash?
This is a dark(er) book. It’s also written in a delightfully exaggerated, and also old-timey, style that let me know that it’s just make believe. It’s funny and I think it would be marvelous to hear the audiobook or even, dare I suggest, see it as a movie. One thing it’s definitely not is a sparkly unicorns and fluffy bunnies story. At times I was so happy to watch Ebenezer and Bethany go after each other, snarling and snapping. Both deserve to have the other act badly towards them and make each other miserable. It takes learning some hard truths about themselves from seeing things through the other person’s eyes to turn this handcart to hell around.
I enjoyed watching the initial battle between Ebenezer and Bethany. There is fun artwork scattered throughout. Both MCs grow and change. A lot of fun secondary characters round out the plot. I could see how the Beast was going to be dealt with but perhaps it was made a touch obvious so that children will be sure that there is a way to deal with it. It also has an ending that is happy yet also – just slightly – keeps its dark edge. B+