Author: Elizabeth Fama
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Farrar Straus and Giroux BFYR
Page Count: 295
Summary from Goodreads:
Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.
Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.
I don’t tend to have much luck with the mermaid genre. Or, rather, I read Of Poseidon and was scarred for life. However, Elizabeth Fama’s storyteling is completely atypical to “normal” mermaid YA fiction. Monstrous Beauty is a dark, lush novel that tells a complex story without extended use of tropes or clichés. It’s a very beautiful book.
Initially, we meet Syrenka, a millennia-old mermaid who spends time observing humans and wishing to be part of their world (see what I did there?). Syrenka meets Ezra, and they fall in love. Some stuff happens, and Syrenka gets new legs like Lieutenant Dan, only much sexier because she’s a mermaid. Alas, Syrenka and Ezra’s love story ends in tragedy. Woe.
Fast forward to the present day, and we meet the true protagonist of Monstrous Beauty, Hester Goodwin. She also meets and falls in love with a dude name Ezra, but some other weird things are happening in town. Like ghosts, a curse on her family, and, strangest of all, people telling her she’s actually a person named Syrenka. Trippy, bro.
All in all, Monstrous Beauty is an exquisitely crafted novel, and there’s not many bad aspects I can pick out. Firstly, Elizabeth Fama’s writing is very good. It’s not remarkably beautiful or image-heavy, but it’s mature and compelling. She goes back and forth from a historical setting to the present day without much trouble, and manages a pseudo-omniscient perspective without too much trouble. Every character was fully realized, thanks to Fama’s writing, and the story progressed beautifully thanks to her control over scene and flow.
The plot itself, as I said, is atypical. Reading the jacket copy, I caught the line “Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him” and immediately had horrifying premonitions of instalove and gross declarations of “twu luff”. I’m very happy to report that Monstrous Beauty has no instalove at all—actually, aside from the tragic Syrenka and Ezra, this book is pretty low on romance. Hester herself doesn’t have a real love interest to speak of, which I found quite refreshing. There’s enough going on in this book, and the last thing we needed was swooning and love triangle-ing and all that nonsense YA authors are so fond of these days.
I just really, really liked this book, more than I’d anticipated certainly. Monstrous Beauty is not the mermaid book you think you know. It’s fresh, it’s dark, it’s moody. Elizabeth Fama knows how to craft an atmospheric story without a doubt, and I really have no major complaints on any front. It’s a novel worth checking out.
Because I gave this book 5 stars, I obviously think it’s excellent, and I want lots of people to read it and love it (or not love it!). Therefore, I am giving away 1 paperback copy of Monstrous Beauty. Huzzah!
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