Title: Monstrous Beauty
Author: Elizabeth Fama
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Series: Monstrous Beauty (Book 1)
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
ISBN-10: 0374373663 (MacTeen)
ISBN-13: 978-0374373665 (MacTeen)
Reviewed by: Emmy
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.
Quick & Dirty: This novel will appeal to readers looking for more literary young adult novels with strong characters and high stakes that have a twist of the terrifying paranormal.
Opening Sentence: Syrenka watched Pukanokick.
Monstrous Beauty isn’t Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Here the underwater sirens are dangerous, seductive creatures who kill mortals that stumble upon them. Because Fama’s using folk lore, the story has darker undertones than other mermaid books on the shelf today. The story alternates POVs between the seductive Syrenka in the eighteen hundreds and Hester in modern times, threading together stories about cursed family and lost-love into such a complex chain the reader hardly knows what it is they want to happen. The novel’s violent—borderline gory in places—and harsh. Fama doesn’t pull her punches when is comes to the hard stuff. There’s a horror aspect to Fama’s novel that I’m not used to seeing in YA, but will definitely appeal to mature readers who want a serious paranormal.
Because Fama is constantly changing the POV of the novel, you’re pulled into the story from different angles, past and present, right and wrong. Helen is trying to deal with a genetic defect in her family—none of the females survive giving birth—and how that will impact her future. Just when she convinces herself she could be happy without love, she meets the mysterious Ezra down on the beach. As Ezra helps her figure out her family’s curse, the story of Syrenka and her human lover unfolds through the chapters, a dark and deeply developed mystery evolves. The best part about Monstrous Beauty’s small cast of character is that by the time you reach the end all your first impressions (and second and third) have flown out the window. Like real people, these characters are more than you first see or expect.
There were some points where a close reader could see the end coming, the predictability being the novel’s main drawback. If Hester had just taken a minute to think everything through…well, it would have been a much shorter novel. The problem with having a predictable plot is that it also makes me reconsider the intelligence of the characters. It’s always easier to see things coming when you’re reading about it from the outside, but sometimes I really wonder how a heroine failed to see the end coming.
The writing was so phenomenal, however, that I almost didn’t care about the predictable plot. I can’t believe this is only Fama’s second novel. The way she strings sentences together, with perfect word choice bringing everything to life, was awing. I sank immediately into the village, the sea, our narrators. Her writing makes all the sinister aspects more immediate, all the stakes seem dearer, and every character more precious. Monstrous Beauty is a chilling novel in many respects. Far more like a young adult literary novel than I’m used to seeing in the paranormal genre.
“Step into the light,” Hester said all at once. She surprised herself with her nerve.?He didn’t move for a moment, and in that span of time Hester imagined with a little rise of panic that he might be damaged somehow—that there might be something shocking in his appearance. She swallowed and resolved to herself that if he came forward she would not show any reaction. She would treat him normally, as he deserved—as any human being deserved—no matter what was different about him.
“Very well,” he said.
As he approached the center of the cave, he held his right hand in front of his eyes, palm out, to shield them from the glare. He was tall, thin, and wiry. He looked rumpled, as if he had just awakened. His clothes were unusual: a white blousy shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows, and black linen pants, also rolled once or twice. He was barefoot. He had scruffy black hair, unkempt but clean, and fair skin. He lowered his hand and squinted at her through one eye. He had the clearest blue eyes she had ever seen. His features were delicate, almost pretty, but also weary and worn. He was gorgeous.
Hester burst out laughing.
Monstrous Beauty Series:
FTC Advisory: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan provided me with a copy of Monstrous Beauty. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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