|Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR
Publish Date: September 4, 2012
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. -(summary from Goodreads.com)
My Thoughts: What an absolute treat to read Elizabeth Fama’s Monstrous Beauty! This book is so well-conceived and so well-crafted that I struggle with my thoughts even now, and it has been days since I finished the story. There is so much going on inside of this book that at any given time, it seems like your head should be completely spinning, but somehow it all makes sense. Everything meticulously weaves in and out and then comes back together to form a story that completely knocked my socks off.
I realize that that this blog post is extremely early and that is always a risk, but I want to get it out there and make people aware of how much I love this book. It is really something special and it’s really sort of in a league of its own right now…
1. The Characters. There are a ton of characters in this story, due in part to the multiple time settings. All well-written, well-developed, and very three-dimensional. I found that I enjoyed the scenes with each of the characters equally – I never skimmed over any pages! Rather, I soaked up all I could about every single character, the good and the bad. Let’s talk about a few of them:
- Syrenka. A beautiful mermaid seen frequently off of the coast by local fisherman for many years – often they fall so entranced by her beauty that they follow her into the ocean, only to drown. For this reason, some locals see her as a curse and want her caught and killed. Most other locals do not believe that seafolk exist.
- Ezra. Ezra believes she exists, because he has seen her. He saw her as he was writing/drawing in his journals one day. A young Naturalist, he wept with joy when we saw her, because she was proof of a myth that he had only heard and suspected before then. He began to come to the shore and sketch her every day, asking her questions of the workings of the sea. Soon the two were deeply in love, both longing for a way to be together.
- Hester. Hester is a young lady who lives in the present day. In love with a boy who might love her back, Hester knows she cannot commit to him. See, there’s this strange curse that exists in her family where women always die when they have their first child…so she can’t in good faith marry and continue this streak of bad luck with someone else. Dejected, Hester stumbles upon a mysterious man on the beach who seems to be pretty confident that he can help her find the answer to her medical mystery. As she begins to confide in him and visit him often – always in a cave by the ocean – she begins to be drawn to him in a weird, unexplainable way. AND his name is Ezra…Hmmmm….
What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is one of my favorite things ever: a mash-up of the genres, a little bit of everything, a little something for everyone. It all works so well, like a big swirling pot of awesome story-telling. It’s not your average story, guys. It’s better than that.
Syrenka and Ezra have a wonderful romance – they’re deeply in love and it is a very passionate and intimate love that is created out of having secrets that others can never know. While initially a forbidden and impossible romance, Syrenka eventually finds a way to be on land with Ezra – how this happens is a huge part of the story – huge part shocking, huge part heartbreaking, and also part amazing. Eventually, when they are finally able to be together, I was sincerely thrilled for them. Of course, a situation like this apparently has to come with consequences, and this is another huge, suspenseful, heartbreaking portion of the book. With Syrenka and Ezra, it really was the things that they did and went through to be together that were so moving for me. I loved them together and I loved their story.
Ghosts and mermaids and mysteries aside, it is the complexity in the consequences of Syrenka’s decision to become a land-dwelling human that really made this book stand out for me. Despite the true love involved, there were just too many bad things that resulted for things to work out – one after another after another – too many consequences, really, and no matter how much I wanted things to work out for Syrenka and Ezra, their fate was basically sealed. Interestingly enough, their fate set into course even more actions and reactions, and over a century later it was finally Hester stirring up things again in the present that caused enough disturbance to bring things to a climax. Of course, the way the book is structured – in alternating chapters of time setting – it reads with disturbance after consequence after disturbance, but it all comes together so well and makes complete and perfect sense while Hester pulls everything together.
I feel like I’m just rambling and that no words can really do Monstrous Beauty justice to my feelings. Really, readers that trust me, you should just throw Monstrous Beauty on your TBR/wish list and read it as soon as you can get their hands on it. It’s honestly THAT GOOD. Elizabeth Fama has written a story of pure beauty and mystery and complexity. It’s dark and brooding and mysterious and heartbreaking. It’s really altogether lovely. I cannot say enough great things about it. I feel honored to have gotten an early chance to read it – truly thrilled – and I hope my words can somehow do it justice.
I feel like Monstrous Beauty would be most appropriate for a more mature or older YA crowd and the YA-loving adult crowd.
Mermaids and Ghosts
Alternating Settings (Time)
*I borrowed this book as part of Around The World Book Tours in exchange for my honest thoughts and opinions. I received no compensation for my review.