Of Curses and Kisses
Sandhya Menon breathes new life into the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale with her diversely cast Of Curses and Kisses. The author’s humor creates a nice balance to her look at serious issues like teen loneliness and parental expectations in this fun YA novel.
The Emersons and Raos are the English/Indian equivalents of the Montagues and Capulets. Back in the days of British colonialism, the Emersons stole a priceless ruby from the Rao family, and even though the matriarch of the clan cursed the Emersons, they still didn’t see fit to return the stone. Modern day Princess Jaya Rao didn’t think too much about either the curse or the feud until someone released pictures of her younger sister Isha hanging out – in private – with a group of young men. The pictures, while completely innocent, were like a bomb going off in their conservative community. Hoping to keep the girls out of the limelight while the scandal dies down, their parents send Isha and Jaya to St. Rosetta’s near Aspen, Colorado, a posh school that has a reputation for protecting the privacy of its wealthy students. Unknown to Jaya’s parents, research has led her to believe it is Grey Emerson, the scion of their sworn enemies, who leaked the pictures. Also unknown to her family is that she wants to go to St. Rosetta’s not for privacy but because Grey is there and she has sworn vengeance on him; her plan is to have him fall in love with her and then break his heart.
A hallowed dream stolen, A world darkly despairs
A Storm, a life, a sudden death heralds the end, the last heir.
As the glass rose dims, So the hope of redemption. Eighteen years, one by one, until what’s left is none. Mend that which is broken. Repair that which is severed. Or the Northcliff name is forsaken. And shall vanish, at last, forever.
Those words have controlled the life of Grey Emerson, heir to the Northcliffe title. Because of the curse, he has always been treated like the mud beneath his father’s shoes. His father does pay for his education at St. Rosetta’s but that doesn’t negate the fact that Grey is never welcomed home for the holidays or shown love in any way. His father blames him for his mother’s death in childbirth, since his was the life that came during the storm causing her sudden death. His dad also claims “the curse has tainted your blood. It’s like a virus and because of that, you won’t ever have any friends. People will sense there’s something wrong with you; they’ll hurt you. Best to keep your distance and save yourself the pain.” As if all of that weren’t enough, the family is convinced that Grey will die at eighteen, eradicating his bloodline so that the Emersons are no more.
When Jaya and Grey first meet, she is surprised to find a kindness in him that she had in no way expected. He, on the other hand, is obsessed with her necklace, a rose made with eighteen ruby petals. One of them is already missing. Jaya talks easily of having it replaced but Grey, already concerned about the curse, wonders if that dropped stone heralds the beginning of his end. Will he die when the last petal falls?
Those who don’t like paranormal elements in their romances can relax. The curse serves as a catalyst for conversation between Jaya and Grey but the woo-woo factor here is limited to stones falling from a necklace and Grey freaking out about it. Typically, that would make Grey seem a bit of a loon but it’s natural that someone who has been told he will die on his eighteenth birthday would be preoccupied by the thought of it. Most of the story, however, is a very typical teen romance that involves two likable, privileged kids falling in love.
It makes sense that since Jaya’s stated goal was to have Grey fall in love with her, she takes every chance to be with him she can. ‘Fortunately’, she meets people who hang out with him the very first day she is at St. Rosetta’s. Equally ‘fortunate’ (okay, let’s call it what it is and say deus ex machina) they quickly become her friends, giving her an excellent excuse to be near him. Our third piece of good fortune? Jaya stumbles upon Grey doing a good deed early in the story, signaling to her that he is no monster but a young man with a good heart. This puts just enough doubt in Jaya’s mind about Grey’s purported misdeed that she treads carefully in regards to her vengeance, a fact for which I was extremely grateful. This is perhaps her strongest quality – Jaya doesn’t stubbornly stick to her own opinion regardless of the evidence. She looks at the information she receives and reforms her thinking if necessary. Along with that, Jaya is a loving older sister, responsible young woman and genuinely nice person.
Thanks to his father, Grey spends a lot of time pondering the curse and how it makes him a blight to humanity, having him be responsible for the death of his mother and the end of his family line. A part of me wanted to slap him for not taking advantage of the counseling services available at the school (all schools have some form of this service in the U.S.) so he could learn that his ancestors bore the brunt of the responsibility for the problems since they never tried to Mend that which is broken. In his defense, Grey did recognize the wrong his family had done, tried to fix it by repairing Jaya’s necklace and was wise enough not to let the curse embitter him. In spite of his father’s advice to avoid friendships, he’d managed to gather around him a good group of mates (more their doing than his) and has used the time he does spend alone to become an avid outdoorsman. He, too, is a responsible, kind (albeit a tad grouchy) person.
The romance is typical of most YA published today with a relationship that develops rather quickly and revolves around the two characters pushing each other to achieve their dreams. There is a strong theme of independence, and of forming the future you want rather than the one your family/society dictates throughout the story, and the romance serves as an impetus for both characters to take charge of their destinies.
The book has one main flaw and that is its superficial handling of the conflicts in the text. The author never explores why Grey’s father is such a stupid jerk, which makes him a cardboard villian. The other villain of the story is dealt with in such an easy, perfunctory manner that it bordered on the ridiculous. Given what they had done, they would not have gone down without more of a fight than they put up in the final confrontation.
Even with its flaws though, Of Curses and Kisses is an easy to read, enjoyable story that is sure to please its youthful audience. Fans of Beauty and the Beast retellings are sure to enjoy it as well.