Title: Monstrous Beauty

Author: Elizabeth Fama

Publish date: September 4th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux 

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Buy it from: Amazon | Book Depository | Books & Books (my local indie)

Goodreads summary: 

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.


MERMAIDS. They’re apparently the new fallen angels which were the new fairies which were the new vampires. Do I have that in the right order? Who cares?

Because forget the mermaid craze, guys. Not that I haven’t liked preeeetty much every mermaid book I’ve ever read, but Elizabeth Fama’s Monstrous Beauty blew them all out of the proverbial water.

Pun intended.

What it really comes down to is that Monstrous Beauty has truly gorgeous prose. You can actually hear the poetry in some sentences when you read them aloud. The words themselves echo the things they describe, and they have a rhythm and (in some cases) alliterative quality to them that nearly made me weep with the beauty of them.

And the prose carries a story that is just as wonderful. In alternating chapters, we get to know modern teen Hester and mermaid Syrenka of the 19th century. They each carry a burden, and Hester’s present and future seem tied to Syrenka’s past. It’s both a haunting and mesmerizing story.

One of the strongest aspects of the story for me was that as the story advances in the past, Hester is pulled to it. She almost forgets herself in what becomes an obsession with this past mystery. To me, despite murder, mystery, deadly mermaids, and hauntings, that is the scariest part of the story. I felt like Hester started to lose herself.

The only thing that nagged me about the book was the fact that Hester didn’t always sound like a teen of our time, asking questions like “What year did it occur?” It just struck me as an odd word choice, but it can be excused with Hester’s job as a character in a sort of living history museum. (Also: it’s important to note that this is a review of an ARC, so that might have changed anyway.)

Overall rating: 5/5. In this case, the tiny thing that I had to criticize didn’t detract one bit from my enjoyment of such a beautiful novel. Elizabeth Fama’s Monstrous Beauty is a masterpiece.

Note: If you like BookTube-y book reviews, I gave it a shot with my first one for this book!