Reviewed by Noelle: September 4, 2012
YAA received an ARC for review from the publishers
Published September 4, 2012 by by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
The Mermaid by William Butler Yeats
Syrenka, an immortal creature of the sea has learned the hard way that loving a human can have catastrophic consequences but when she meets Ezra, a naturalist in 19th century Plymouth, Massachusetts, she dares to dream of a life shared together and is willing to sacrifice anything for the chance. Hester, a 21st century teenager has begun to suspect that the affliction causing generations of mothers in her family to die within weeks of childbirth isn't so much a genetic defect as it is a curse. When Hester begins to research her hunch, she uncovers much more than she could ever anticipate.
Yes, Monstrous Beauty is a story about mermaids, but it's also a story about love, sacrifice and the unexpected repercussions they create. It's about how something beautiful can spawn something so wretchedly tragic that it echoes in time for centuries.
There was a delicious undercurrent of creeeeeepy in Fama's writing, a feeling I described akin to listening to the Jaws theme. You knew something was surfacing, but what? And would the damage be lost limbs and carnage or just peeing your pants in false alarm? Fama doesn't shy away from darkness or violence and horrible things happen to characters in an nondiscriminatory manner. No one is safe from tragedy or physical peril.
The history-rich setting, including Burial Hill and the details of Hester's job as a historical reenactor added additional depth to the already dark mythology and almost tangibly oppressive atmosphere. However, the construct of the plot (Hester is not privy to the flashbacks to Syrenka's story) placed the reader several steps ahead of Hester for much of the book and it could be exceedingly frustrating when Hester unwittingly waltzed into dangerous situations or failed to pick up on things the reader has long since guessed. But just when I was about to throw my hands in the air and plead, "Get with it already, Hester!" Fama added enough suspense and surprises to bring the story home with a satisfying smash.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars.