mbMonstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR
Source: NetGalley
Rating: starstarstarblank_starblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

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.

Let me start by saying I am sick of YA heroines who “hide behind their hair.” It’s an overly used trope and it would be nice to see an outgoing heroine for once. I am also tired of YA heroines who are afraid to admit their emotions and who are completely oblivious to signals sent by boys they like. Self-esteem would be nice. Just saying. Despite all these thoughts occurring to me before chapter 2, I liked this one well enough, considering it’s my third or fourth mermaid book this year alone. And, let me get this out of the way, trigger warning for the attempted sexual assault at the very beginning of the novel. Joey, the creep, says some incredibly gross things like, “I know I can open you up — like a flower.” EW. He even insults her after she gets away. Aw. Romance. There is also a rape in the first quarter of the novel, so just be warned here. So anyway, Hester (which is a terrible name, by the way) is a girl who hides behind her hair because she’s afraid of getting too close to anyone. Sigh. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances, which are detailed in the summary. She meets Ezra* in a cave, and then they start their adventure soon enough.

The chapters alternate between modern day Hester and 1800′s era Ezra, which I didn’t mind. Alternating points of view have never bothered me, as long as the tense doesn’t change. In fact, I really enjoyed the historical points of view, maybe even more than I liked being in Hester’s head. During one of these scenes, though, there’s a rape. Just putting that out there. It’s not explicit, but you know, and he knows, what he’s doing. I skimmed that part, but I still loved learning about Syrenka and the mysterious Sarah Doyle. And, of course, I liked the little romance between Ezra and Syrenka. What I didn’t love was how Hester mooned over her best friend for approximately two pages before forgetting about him in favor of Ezra. That happens a lot in YA, and I try not to let it bother me, but it does. It bothers me. Anyway, just a personal annoyance.

I had some suspicions about Hester’s powers from the very beginning, ever since she tells us about her friend, Linnie, but I don’t want to give anything away. I liked how brutal this one got, which reminded me of Lies Beneath, because it wasn’t exactly fluffy and romantic. People are killed, people are raped. What I didn’t like was the Hester/Ezra “romance.” I’ve never been so disinterested in a pairing in my life, because the whole thing is overblown and kind of obvious to us, the reader. I actually started skimming through their scenes eventually. That’s really what made this a 3 star book for me. That and how much I disliked Hester. She never figured anything out, did she? She needed every single thing spelled out for her, even things I’d known for almost two-thirds of the book. I also want to sit her down and tell her all about this magical thing called birth control and maybe try to convince her that marriage and love without children is perfectly normal.

So I have a lot of negative things to say about this one, and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my favorite. Instant love just doesn’t do it for me. I will say I loved the mermaids in this one. They were scary! All bleached with sharp teeth and fins, not to mention the whole eating-human-hearts-and-lungs thing. I also really enjoyed watching the mystery unfold, and learning more about Hester’s new friends.

So this one wasn’t really a good fit for me, but don’t take my word for it! Check this out for scary mermaids, historical mysteries, and hot guys in billowing shirts.

*I was worried about Ezra at first because Hester describes him as “old-fashioned” and that usually translates into “misogynistic” or “controlling” or “infantilizing” or, you know, all three. I never got to figure this out though, as Hester only meets Ezra like three times and his character never really develops.