GoodReads synopsis – 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.
The Little Mermaid was one of my favorite Disney movies growing up, and I’ve always loved the idea of such a cute story like that transformed into a YA novel. Unfortunately, mermaid books can be quite a hit or miss. And I’ve never found that “one” book that can capture the exact feel of that movie and not make it quite ridiculous and insta-lovey. It’s like I’m Prince Eric himself.
Well now I did. There were quite a few of unfavorable reviews up for Monstrous Beauty, but I saw this pretty paperback version and I just HAD to have it. Those things happen, you will all understand I’m sure. Maybe my low expectations due to those negative reviews helped a bit, but without a doubt I did really really enjoy Monstrous Beauty.
Even though I just mentioned my search for a YA Little Mermaid, this is not it. Which is actually a good thing because it is so much more. There are creepy parts, gorgeous prose and good foreshadowing. Monstrous Beauty tells the story of a teenage girl (Hester) in this age and a naturalist (Ezra) from the 1800’s who falls in love with a mermaid (Syrenka). These two stories are clearly different from each other and it feels very different as well. Ezra and Syrenka’s story is pretty dark and haunting, while Hester’s story reads more like an engaging mystery. The best thing is that everything is connected somehow and everything you read from the Ezra’s story falls into place.
Another thing that sets this book apart from The Little Mermaid is that there are no ‘cute’ mermaids. Which works for this story. What these mermaids have to do to be able to live on land is gruesome but much more believable. Plus, there is this kind of leader of the mermaids and she gives me the creeps. It’s like the following gif, but creepier and it’s awesome.
What I love about Monstrous Beauty, besides the engaging mystery and Ezra and Syrenka’s haunting tale, are the wonderful cast of characters. Hester is a great main character, she is flawed but interesting and determined. Other great characters include Hester’s best friend Peter, a little girl called Linnie and pastor McKee. Especially the pastor, because he is Scottish. I may or may not have spoken his dialogue out loud in a Scottish accent.
I do wish the romance in Monstrous Beauty was handled a little bit differently. Hester has this thing for someone but it bordered on insta-love. Everything about this romance was kind of weird, because I never knew if it was real or part of the mystery surrounding Hester and her ancestors. I’m assuming it’s not the latter (I read it like that anyway) and it tempered my enjoyment of this novel. There’s this great guy in the book who CLEARLY loves her, and I just wanted them to KISS ALREADY.
Finally, an excellent mermaid book. I’m definitely planning to read Fama’s future books. While Monstrous Beauty has far surpassed my expectations and I encourage anyone to read it, it doesn’t come close to my love for Ariel. (Which might be all nostalgic love because I haven’t watched it in YEARS, but still)