Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux (BYR) on September 4th 2012
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.
While I absolutely adore mermaid books, finding a good one seems like it is getting harder and harder. After being burned a few times, I decided to approach Monstrous Beauty hesitantly. Don't get my hopes up too high. Don't be afraid to give up if you have to.
Unlike most other mermaid books, Monstrous Beauty reads more like a historical tale than a contemporary one. Fama introduces readers to two main characters: Hester, in the present, and Syrenka, in the past. Both characters tales are interwoven through out the book, giving readers a better understanding of the big picture.
I love books that interweave the past and the present… when it is done right. And Monstrous Beauty definitely did it right. Hester and Syrenka were both interesting characters that I wanted to know more and more about. But my favorite, by far, was Syrenka. With her incredibly tragic past, I just seemed to gravitate to her. That's not to say that I did not enjoy Hester's parts, but Syrenka simply pulled on my heartstrings more.
Monstrous Beauty was full of surprises. I will admit that I guessed plenty of the twists, but that did not make it any less fun. Monstrous Beauty is a complex book full with sorrow, love, loss, and survival. It is not your typical fluffy mermaid book. There is plenty of depth in these pages.
Monstrous Beauty had its ups and downs. A beautiful tale filled with complex characters. A lore that was completely enchanting. But its predictability was almost the book's downfall. In addition, Monstrous Beauty is a book that is not going to be for everyone. Despite remaining mostly PG throughout, there are some scenes that may not be suitable for younger teens.
Honestly, I was a little worried about this one, as the last mermaid book I tried to read I gave up on halfway through (Of Poseidon). I was relieved to see that it flipped between the past and present, which gave it a different feel right away and one that pulled me into the story quickly.
I love a story that switches between time periods if done well. I love seeing a plot unravel slowly and in a way that really pulls the reader in. That is exactly what Monstrous Beauty did from the beginning. We meet Syrenka first, who drowns the first human man she has decided to make contact with, as she does not understand that they cannot breathe underwater. Syrenka is definitely a character that is not human but tries to understand humans anyways. So it is no surprise that she is later drawn towards them again and falls in love.
But this is no simple love tale. When we meet Hester, our female lead from the present time we find that her family has a history of mothers dying after giving birth to daughters. Hester is determined to remain a virgin and never fall in love. When she meets a stranger on the beach, he convinces her to look further into the history of her family to see if it a curse or a family genetic trait. We find out this man is the same man that Syrenka fell in love with in the past. So how is he here in the present?
The beautiful writing and storytelling in Monstrous Beauty makes it a complex and compelling read that will keep readers reading until the very last page. There are definitely some gory scenes as well as a rape scene, so beware when giving this book to younger readers.