Review | Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Monstrous BeautySyrenka, a mysterious and ferocious mermaid, falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. The two spend hours together talking and asking each other questions about their different lives. In an impulsive moment, Syrenka abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land with Ezra. For a time, the two are blissfully happy, but Syrenka’s secret past life, is hard to protect and her decision to become human comes with horrific and deadly consequences.

Over a hundred years after Syrenka and Ezra’s love affair, seventeen-year-old Hester is plagued by the inexplicable fate of the women in her family. For generations, child-bearing has resulted in unexplainable deaths shortly after the baby is born. Because of these deaths, Hester is determined to remain forever single and untangled in the webs of love. That is, until she meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, and inexplicably drawn to him. Her feelings for Ezra lead her on an investigation into the past which she hopes will lead her to the truth of where she comes from.

I primarily picked up Monstrous Beauty because it won an Odyssey Honor Award for excellence in audiobooks for young adults. I was also intrigued by the subject: dangerous mermaids. And that cover, it’s fantastic! There were some really great things about this book. The mermaids themselves were awesome: strong, seductive, and fierce. The fantasy aspect of the book was very interesting.

I loved the setting for the book: Plymouth, Massachusetts. The author did a ton of research and it showed. The setting was very interesting and the author’s descriptions created vivid pictures in my mind. I also loved the underwater scenes where Hester is taken to the freakish mermaid queen. This disturbed mermaid hoarder had me wanting to clean out some closets.

Unfortunately, there was more I didn’t like about Monstrous Beauty than I liked. The author gave readers so much information about what was really going on too quickly. This left me knowing so much more than the main character Hester, that I ended up thinking she was stupid for not putting the pieces together sooner.

I also felt that Hester was needlessly brash and impulsive. There were episodes of swearing that seemed forced. I’m a sucker for strong female characters, but Hester completely lost her identity because of her attraction to Ezra. Hester also betrayed and lied to really nice and important people in her life. Hester’s name was also somewhat silly and distracting considering the Plymouth setting (think Hester Prynne).

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Overall Rating:  2 of 5 stars false1/2. (I was torn about giving this book 2 or 3 stars.)

Parent’s guide: In my opinion, this is a book for mature readers, I would not give it to a person younger than 18.

  • Sex: a disturbing and somewhat descriptive rape scene of a mermaid, lust, kissing, the implication of sex between a minor and man who would be about 150 years old
  • Language: some bombastic swearing, including more than one f-word
  • Violence: a mermaid viciously kills a human, some drowning scenes, a violent murder scene where multiple people kill each other, a child dies terribly, a person is stabbed
  • Other: a teen lies and steals from the people most important to her, a teen enters into a relationship with a man without knowing anything about him