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Monstrous Beauty Hardcover – September 4, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 10 Up-Seventeen-year-old Hester has already decided that love and children are not part of her future. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her, and her family has a long history of women dying mysteriously after childbirth. At a party, Hester escapes to a beach cave accessible only at low tide and encounters a mysterious man to whom she is inexplicably drawn. Separate chapters tell the story of a mermaid named Syrenka who, more than 100 years earlier, exchanges eternal life in the ocean for life on land because she falls in love with a human. The narration travels back and forth between Syrenka and Hester, eventually establishing how the two are linked. Hester begins to investigate the mystery of the deaths of the women in her family and discovers a way to put the past to rest and free up her future. Mermaid lore and New England history are combined in a riveting tale that is both sensual and unsettling. History buffs, fantasy lovers, and mystery fans will all find something to please them in this engrossing story about a family curse and its cure. A rape scene and some of the other depictions of violent acts make this most appropriate for mature readers.-Kathy Kirchoefer, Prince Georges County Memorial Library System, New Carrollton, MDα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

Fama (Overboard, 2002) delivers a beautifully written, romantic ghost story with an artful construction that incorporates a murder mystery and detailed historical fiction. The unusual setting includes graveyards, church crypts, and the starkly beautifully North Atlantic shore. Fama’s mermaids are powerful, creepy, and unsentimental, more akin to Barrie than Disney. Parallel stories follow 17-year-old Hester in 2002 and the ageless mermaid Syrenka in 1872. Hester is an only child who works at Plimoth Plantation (a historical reenactment site) and fears dying in childbirth, like her mother and the four preceding generations. Syrenka falls in love with a young naturalist, Ezra, and devours the lungs of a fisherman to become human and join Ezra on land. Gradually, the two stories weave together for a compelling and satisfying finish. Fama does not shy away from the big issues: love, death, longing, lust, fear, and revenge all play out through her complex and multidimensional characters. Grades 9-12. --Debbie Carton

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 - 18 years
  • Lexile Measure: 780L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); First Edition edition (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374373663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374373665
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,507,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Brittany Moore VINE VOICE on October 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A mermaid falls in love with a man and forsakes her underwater life and immortality for the love she feels. Once on land though, there are consequences she must face, for life above is not like life below. Hester meets a stranger who guesses things about her she hasn't dared to speak aloud. In her family death and birth seem to be linked. The stranger urges her to explore her family's history and figure out why the women all seemed to be cursed. What starts out as small curiosity grows into something larger than Hester could imagine. Her love for the stranger grows and things seem to start trying to tear them apart. It's up to Hester to solve the mystery though and save her own life.

This was a very interesting story. Quite a few parts were obvious to me though, so that made the novel easy to put down. I really liked how the mermaids were described though. There weren't Ariels singing about in their seashell bras. These ones were much more sinister, with sharp fins on their wrist and long, strong tails. I really loved the mermaid part of the story, and wish there was a bit more of that and a bit less land. Hester just seemed kind of dumb for not realizing the things that were right in front of her. Maybe if I was in her situation instead of seeing it from the outside, I would have done the same thing--not realized the same things. Alas though, I am a reader and it bothered me how clueless Hester was. I liked seeing all the pieces fit together and spelled out and it was an interesting plot. I just felt like I was sitting around waiting for Hester to catch up though. I would like to find a dapper man named Ezra by the sea though, that sounds fantastic. I wish Peter was in this book more. He seemed like a great guy too, but we rarely got to see him.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Nikki Wang on September 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I am completely stunned with Monstrous Beauty! It wasn't a mermaid tale in the way that the current ones are. Yes, killer mermaid, but it seemed like Elizabeth Fama used the old legends to create her story. She didn't try to make it into a modern fish tale, she worked on the legend and created a spectacular story.

There were two story lines entwined and I loved both. But you knew what had happened, you knew what caused this, and you knew what caused that. You knew what would happen, but instead of making this book boring and predictable, it made it even more amazing and it made me even more antsy, waiting for the characters to realize what was happening. You guys have no idea how much I wanted to scream out "I know what happened!" to the characters! My anxiety kept growing until finally, finally they discovered everything. And hey. That's totally a good thing! But there were a lot of surprising twists as well, and a lot of times, the outcome wasn't as clear as I thought.

And a YA book isn't a YA book without romance right? I loved the romance! It was definitely different from the rest, but why, you'll have to read it for yourself! Let's just say it's a tragedy, not a HEA. Trying not to spoil anything, I'll just say that it's definitely not insta-love despite what you'd think and that history repeats...sadly. The romance is definitely a key point and is definitely something special.

Character-wise, I felt like the characters weren't very dimensional. They did have separate personalities, but they just felt...unreal. And no, not because Syrenka was a mermaid and Ezra was...well, anyways. I enjoyed reading about them, but I felt like if I met them, I would feel as if they were fake.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Krista Cubicleblindness on June 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Last year here on the site we read Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan for a book club pick. This book, like that one, revolves mostly on the idea of the sea creatures coming to live on land. After 140 years we now follow a 17 year old Hester and the "love curse" that has fallen upon her family. Through flashbacks of Syrenka's life and the research of a 16th century Pilgrim, Hester. We get a historical fantasy fiction with a bit of paranormal twists. A very unique read that is full of mythology, detailed research for historical accuracy and the emotions of a mystery/detective novel.

With some subject matter that is more appropriate for more mature readers. Monstrous Beauty takes us through a tumultuous story of a young Hester. With this curse put upon her family, has turned to not wanting to find love for herself. Yet still drawn to two different boys as she hurriedly tries to solve the mystery.

After reading several mermaid books this year, what caught my attention while reading this was the story is the mermaids connection to the land. I loved the mythology behind Syrenka's life. The version of the mermaid that Elizabeth Fama presents is dark, terrifying and completely engrossing. While in the more current day human, Hester may come off as naive and emotional it was fitting for the time setting. With a young girl trying to solve a century+ old curse, the switching of the past and present this writing style was best used to build the tension as the story grew. The reader will question when, if ever Hester will catch up to what we already know. But how in fact the events will take place.

When Hester does put the clues together it is a very dramatic and fast paced ending with plenty of paranormal activity. I was not expecting ghosts to show up in a mermaid story. But with several supernatural elements blending into this story makes it a very unique and interesting read.
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