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Walking Around On Those—Whaddya Call Them? Oh Yeah, Feeeeeeeeeeeeet

A review of Elizabeth Fama's Monstrous Beauty, a (gasp!) mermaid book.

Walking Around On Those—Whaddya Call Them? Oh Yeah, Feeeeeeeeeeeeet

BOOK REPORT for Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Cover Story: Way Improved
BFF Charm: Yay And Nay
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Then And Now
Bonus Factors: Colonial Williamsburg, Mermaids, Ghosts
Relationship Status: Going Steady

Cover Story:

The final cover is completely respectable, unlike the ARC cover I have. Check it:

When I first started reading this, I thought the cover wasn't all that bad. It doesn't have garish colors or obvious teeny pandering, but then I pulled it out of my purse while waiting at the doctor's office. Aaaaand glued it to my lap immediately, because it was more embarrassing than I thought.

Anyway, what I'm saying is this cover's not bad. It looks like it could be a grownup book, like something by Tracy Chevalier or -- maybe -- Gwendolyn Brooks. It's because the mermaid looks like a cross between a Mannerist and an Impressionist painting, so it really looks like one of those historical fiction books about an artist and the story behind a famous painting, not like a mermaid book. It's totally a mermaid book.

The Deal:

Back in the the late 1800s, fierce mermaid Syrenka falls in love with a human -- a dashing young naturalist researching mythological creatures -- but being with him means devastating consequences, as every wish has a price. TRIGGER WARNING: There's a rape early on in Syrenka's story.

Fast forward 140 years to Hester. She's a typical slightly geeky teenager -- she's uncomfortable at parties, loves history (she works as a reenactor at a historical village), maybe has a crush on her best friend, is living under the weight of a family curse that means she can never fall in love. You know, the yoozh.

See, it turns out that every woman in Hester's lineage, all the way back to her great-great-grandmother in the 1870s, dies within days of giving birth to a daughter. So Hester can't ever have children, and the easiest way to do that is to never fall in love. When she meets the mysterious Ezra, her resolve is tested, especially when it looks like he might know how to break her curse.

BFF Charm: Yay And Nay

Hester gets my BFF charm. The girl loves history, has a sharp wit, and isn't afraid to speak her mind. She's also determined and insanely brave, and she really needs someone to confide in who's not going to fall in love with her and complicate the relationship. Hello, that's me! I'd never give her a hard time about her job at Plimoth Plantation -- hell, I'd probably beg her to get me a job.

Syrenka, on the other hand, scares the hell out of me, no matter how civilized she gets. She's like those "domesticated" pet tigers drug dealers own (seriously, you guys, people owning wild animals is so so so horrible and sad) -- she prowls around mostly harmless, but when provoked, out come the claws and teeth and killing instincts. Shudder.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Because there's a valid explanation for Hester's instalove for Ezra, I agreed to look the other way and not criticize. HOWEVER, Ezra tooootally does not float my boat. You know who does float my whale-watching boat? Peter, Hester's BFF, whose dad owns a charter boat company. Peter's hot, supersmart, and HAS A BOAT. I just don't see how Hester can ignore his obvious feelings for her and put him squarely in the friend zone. I'd say it's cool, because it means he's fair game for me, but Hester's probably the type who'd be jealous with Peter anyway, even if she didn't want him for herself. Get over it, Hester, and jump Peter's bones already! The boy won't wait around forever, and then who's gonna take you whale watching?

Talky Talk: Then And Now

Fama weaves Hester's and Syrenka's stories together, hopping back and forth from the past to the present, dropping little clues about Hester's curse along the way. The result is a creepy, sinister story about evil and ghosts and jealousy, and Fama's serious style suits the tale just right. This book definitely does not drip with typical paranormal teen candy, save one unfortunate description of Ezra as "breathtakingly beautiful", and the result is engrossing ghost story mystery that doesn't suffer much from the rather confusing explanation at the end.

Bonus Factor: Colonial Williamsburg

Like I mentioned, Hester works at Plimoth Plantation, posing as a colonial housewife. The job sounds equal parts crappy and amazing -- moronic tourists, but a near-total historical environment. And while it'd eventually get old, coming up with colonial ways to make fun of the idiotic frat boy tourists would be fun for a long time.

Bonus Factor: Mermaids

I know, say what? MERMAIDS? I swore I'd never read a mermaid book, but. BUT. This isn't a cheesy "mermaids are the new vampire" book. The mermaids in this story are scary as all shit, and the queen makes Ursula from Disney's Little Mermaid seem like a damn kitten. I like paranormal books where the monsters are true monsters, not misunderstood emo boys in love, and this one delivers.

Bonus Factor: Ghosts

The ghosts in this book manage to be creepy without making me want to sleep with the lights on, and since I have been sleeping like crap lately anyway, I appreciate that. Thanks, guys (although one ghost does creep me the hell out).

Casting Call:

Ethan Peck as Ezra

Saoirse Ronan as Syrenka

Ed Harris as Peter

And since Apollo 13 Ed Harris is a wee bit old to play a teenager (not to mention what he looks like now -- yeesh), I'm going with

Jesse Plemons as Peter

Relationship Status: Going Steady

Sure, I pulled a Fred Savage when my BFF passed me a note in calculus that said this book had a crush on me, but I also started to see it in a new light. I heard it wasn't like most of the mermaid books out there, that it was darker and more serious, so when it got up the nerve to ask me out, I said yes. What started as just being nice to a friend turned into something more romantic and exciting, and we just celebrated our 2-month "anniversary!" (mensaversary?). It took me to Olive Garden, and we went to the movies afterwards. I bought it a tiny bottle of its favorite cologne -- it's so much more mature than Axe Body Spray.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Farrar Straus Giroux. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Monstrous Beauty will be available September 4.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.