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.
Finally! Folks, we have a winner! This is the first true mermaid book that I’ve read and actually really enjoyed. While it’s true I’ve read two other’s that I’ve really liked, such as Lies Beneath, I’m not counting it here because that’s about a merman, and that’s one of the main reasons I liked it. And I’m not counting Of Poseidon either because I feel like that doesn’t count as its more mythological and the character’s don’t even classify themselves as mermaids/mermen, but rather Syrenian’s, Poseidon’s children, and its focus, once again, is on the male faction more than the female. But here, in Monstrous Beauty, we have a story about a mermaid who fits the true mermaid mold: selfish, murdering, thieving, and in the end, ruining the lives of all those around her, casting a curse down upon her lineage for years to come. And yet, I didn’t hate her. I think part of this is due to the fact that while the story stems from her, it actually revolves around her great-great granddaughter, Hester. And Hester is a good person. And in the end, Syrenka tried to be one too. This, I feel, is the difference between all the other true mermaid books out there that I’ve read. The main characters, who are mermaids, are evil, twisted, and generally want terrible things to happen to others (or at least don’t fight for what’s right), and if I don’t like the main character, well, then it’s over before it began.
One of the things I like so much about this novel is that it is a mystery. While I was initially confused and found Syrenka an abhorrent character, Fama seamlessly crafts glimpses of the past into her novel, and her scenes between Ezra, Syrenka, and others help piece together what really happened to call down a curse upon Syrenka’s kin, allowing us to understand why Syrenka ultimately did what she did. Hester’s story is then juxtaposed with that of Syrenka’s, though more prominent throughout the story, and I loved how well Fama intertwined them, brining it all together for a fabulous conclusion.
Hester, along with all the other characters, is greatly fleshed out, and I was easily able to connect with her over the course of the novel. Fama did a great job creating her characters and making most of them extremely likeable, while at the same time adding that hint on anxiety as the reader knows it can’t end well. And of course, I just loved how this novel is set up in such a way that it reveals just enough to spur the reader on, not giving away too many clues, but helping the reader understand the connection between the past and present as it all unfolds. It’s just fabulous. Four and a half stars.
Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on Septmeber 4, 2012.