Paranormal Young Adult
Farrar, Strous and Giroux
Available September 4th
Received from publisher for review
THE STORY (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.
As the title suggests, Monstrous Beauty is a story that skates a razor’s edge between horror and hope as well as pain and promise, making our shoulders tense as the weight of a tragic history that repeats itself again and again settles on them. Ms. Fama does an outstanding job of depicting the past and present as they unfold in alternating chapters, mistakes made during Syrenka's long life running parallel to the mistakes Hester is currently headed toward to keep us wondering how these two parallel lines are going to eventually curve to bring us full circle. Thanks to our glimpses of the past, we remain one step of Hester in the present, our knowledge of a link she’s missing heightening the tension as we wait with all our senses on alert for her to right the wrongs a hundred and forty years in the making.
While the mystery surrounding Hester’s connection to mermaid Syrenka and her ill-fated relationship with a young man named Ezra is stunningly complex and layered with years of sorrow and suffering, Hester herself is someone we never really get to know. Far more plot-driven than character-driven, this tale wraps us up in a century and a half of murder and sacrifice, spinning an epically woeful story that dances around the edges of our hearts without ever wading into the messy center. We feel for Hester and the plight of everyone involved in Syrenka’s catastrophic cycle of misfortune, but we view her with a sense of detachment, essentially seeing her as a stranger throughout instead of someone we grow to know on a variety of levels by the time we reach the last page.
The connection between the events of 1873 and those happening in the present is beautifully drawn, the intricacies of the lives of the women in Hester’s family detailed in all their grim glory to paint a mournful picture of love and loss, however, we never quite fully understand why Hester is the chosen generation to break the cycle. There’s a 140 year gap between Syrenka and Hester, and we can’t help but question why not one of the women who came before Hester was able to connect the jagged pieces of their broken family history. Our curiosity, while brilliantly satisfied in some areas, is left unattended with regard to our heroine, reinforcing our feelings of character disconnect as we wonder what makes Hester so very special.
Due to a few scenes of rather brutal violence and a brief but disturbing instance of rape – the price for life in Syrenka’s world one that must be paid in flesh and blood – Monstrous Beauty is recommended for older YA audiences. Overall, this tale is a dark one, intriguing us with a century-spanning mystery even though a deep and memorable connection to young Hester never fully forms.