Hideous Beauty is a YA thriller about first love, grief, and why people keep secrets. Dylan’s secret relationship with Ellis is exposed right before a school dance, forcing Dylan to come out to his parents. He knows they weren’t as okay with it as they acted, but maybe he and Ellis can be happy and openly together. However, a car accident leaves Ellis dead and Dylan trying to work out who saved him but not Ellis and what dark secrets Ellis was keeping from him.
Summarising the novel doesn’t really get across either the characters or the way it deals with a lot of intense themes, not only death and sexuality but also cancer and sexual assault (which are all warned about before the novel starts). It is the kind of dark and gripping young adult novel that I would’ve enjoyed as a teenager, combining mystery elements around what really happened and the pages of Ellis’ journal that keep being sent to Dylan with a lot of emotions that need to be dealt with. The love story at its heart features both sweetness and complication, and the ending gives Dylan a chance to deal with the intensity but also grief and the fact he needs to move forward with his life. Plenty of moments in the book are very sad, and Dylan’s relationship with many of the characters is complex and often troubled at some point, but there is also the titular ‘beauty’ to be found, in characters being themselves and in their deep connections (Dylan’s friendship with Mike is a good example of both sides of this).
Moving between the present of the narrative and events of the previous six months, Hideous Beauty manages to tell a complex story that touches on guilt, justice, and trauma as well as love and friendship. It is definitely one to be aware of the topics covered inside before reading, but it shows that the classic dark YA thriller (there are hints of some of the more guilt focused Point Horror books in this) can be updated to cover the lives of LGBTQ teenagers and to carry an undercurrent about society and acceptance.