The more I think about it, the more I like this book. I wasn't ready to review it right as I finished, because I was convinced that I didn't like the ending. Actually, the book was hard enough for me to read that I was almost convinced I didn't like the book.
The narrator is just SO violent and hateful and unlikeable at first, and his view of the world is so dark and frightened and hate-filled that it made me really uncomfortable to read. He did get better as he learned to trust and to open up, and I became more comfortable seeing through his eyes. I think the thing that I bothered me most right as I finished was that I was anticipating a fairy-tale ending to the fairy-tale story. Looking back, I should have expected that when the spell made everyone return to their former appearances, that it would have the same effect on Naef, but that's not how fairy tales work, right? Fairy tales end with everyone magically perfect and magically happy forever after, don't they?
I was actually kindof honestly angry that Naef didn't get his happy ending... until I've been thinking about it more and more and have realized that he DID.
No, he wasn't magically beautiful anymore, but what could be more perfect than knowing that Aerie-Smith had been "seeing" the real Naef the same way Naef had been seeing the real people under the animals all along? And knowing that, in spite of his physical imperfections, Aerie-Smith had really fallen in love with the real him and not the beautiful body he'd been magicked into.
And the way Aerie-Smith takes care of him after the spell is ended just melts my heart to think back to. Doing as much as he can to take away the pain that Naef's physical challenges brought, not letting him push him away, taking him home to see his mom and his sister... now I see that THAT is Naef's fairy-tale ending. And a more honest one than having everything be magically made perfect.
I would very highly recommend this book. I can't quite give it 5 stars because of how difficult parts of it were for me to read, and which make me reluctant to return to re-read it. But it was beautiful and honest and wonderfully well written.