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Monstrous Beauty

Monstrous Beauty

4.2 13
by Elizabeth Fama, Katherine Kellgren

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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,


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.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 9 Up—Hester, 17, has a future filled with dreams, but none contain love, marriage, or babies. She "can only ever be alone" because there's a curse tied to her family's ancestry. The origin is cloudy, but the reality is crystal clear: women in her family die within days of giving birth. In 1872, Syrenka, an immortal mermaid, is caught in a fisherman's net. He rapes her; she murders him and eats his lungs, which provides her with mortality, legs, and marriage to Ezra. When a busybody widower discovers Syrenka's secret, the chaos that ensues results in multiple murders. In desperation, Syrenka magically pins Ezra's soul to the Earth, ultimately creating a downward spiraling cycle of sacrifice: when a soul is selfishly detained, one too many remain on Earth. Hester discovers her connection to Syrenka, and that she alone has the ability to free the spirits she has grown to love, thus ending the curse. These two stories are told in alternating chapters. Katherine Kellgren provides solid narration, including the lovely Irish lilt of Pastor McKee and the gravelly sneers of the sea hag. Fama weaves a haunting love story (Farrar, Straus, 2012) with threads resembling the tales of the Brothers Grimm. A great listen for teens that enjoy the dark and tragic side of love.—Cheryl Preisendorfer, Twinsburg City Schools, OH
Publishers Weekly
Seventeen-year-old Hester Goodwin has already decided to be celibate: “Love. Sex. Loss. It was safest to avert the whole sequence.” Her mind is on the deaths in her family—new mothers withering within days of childbirth, generation after generation. She is determined not to add to this macabre pattern, but she can’t stop wondering about it. When an apparent coincidence brings an old murder-suicide to her attention, Hester soon finds it’s connected with her family history, and the deeper she delves, the eerier the echoes with her own life become. In a chilling and original story, Fama (Overboard) alternates chapters between Hester and Syrenka, an ancient mermaid with a penchant for human men. Syrenka is no Ariel—to gain human lungs, she eats a pair—but her plight tugs at the same heartstrings as that of another monster, Frankenstein’s. The alternating narrative device can make for stutters in the momentum, and there are stretches (notably when genealogy is rehearsed) where the plot trudges. The horror and humanity are adroitly handled, however, and Fama never lapses into cliché. Ages 12–up. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“Fama does not shy away from the big issues: love, death, longing, lust, fear, and revenge all play out through her complex and multidimensional characters.” —Booklist

Monstrous Beauty packs a serious, sexy wallop.” —Bookpage

“Fama delivers a beautifully written, romantic ghost story with an artful construction that incorporates a murder mystery and detailed historical fiction.” —BCCB

“History buffs, fantasy lovers, and mystery fans will all find something to please them in this engrossing story.” —School Library Journal

“Hhorror and humanity are adroitly handled.” —Publishers Weekly

“This stylish fantasy mesmerizes.” —Kirkus Reviews

Children's Literature - Elisabeth Greenberg
Syrenka, a beautiful white-haired green-eyed sea creature, looks for human love despite the powerful Squananit who rules the underwater world. Not understanding her own power and the limitations of the human lungs, she drowns her first choice of man in 1542 as she loses all sense of time and, in her passion, holds him underwater too long. A century later, she loves a young naturalist named Ezra who is fascinated by her beauty and collects all his observations of her and her stories of the underwater world in a beautifully illustrated notebook. She decides to take on human form in order to love Ezra fully and lives in marital bliss after eating the heart of the fisherman who caught her. The suspicious widow discovers her secret life in the water with her sister mermaids. A disastrous series of events including murder, retribution, and the desperate pinning of souls ensues. Generations later Hester, a teenager, haunted by a series of deaths immediately after childbirth in her family, decides never to have children and avoids boys except as friends...until she meets a mysterious, exceedingly handsome and attractive stranger named Ezra. He suggests that she determine if her family is under a curse or suffers from a mysterious malady. Hester, a historian, sets off on a research mission and unleashes the anger of Squananit as she encounters the different souls that have been pinned, and both murder and passion surface again. This enthralling mix of human relationship, passion, and anger set against the silkie/mermaid legends will fascinate readers who relish sophisticated mysteries and are also exploring their own relationships with the opposite gender. Reviewer: Elisabeth Greenberg
VOYA - Kristin Fletcher-Spear
This stand-alone paranormal story has a mermaids, ghosts, curses, reincarnation, and romance set in Plymouth—both in 1873 and today. The tragic tale of Syrenka, a mermaid who becomes human for her love, slowly unveils as Hester begins to research her family's history. Her family's women have always died a few days after childbirth, so Hester has decided not to ever have relationships. But after being drawn to a strange man at the beach, Hester begins to discover the issue is curse driven rather than medical. While the story is cumbersome to quickly describe, it is accessible to readers and flows well, with chapters alternating between the past and present. The story slowly unfolds, allowing readers to enjoy the intrigue of the past, the mermaids, the love stories, and the present as they begin to intertwine. Most of the side characters are interesting, but just above one dimensional. Hester's voice rings true, especially in the moments she discusses her mother. With its beautifully detailed mermaid world and romance at its core, this will find fans of paranormal romance without a doubt. For those who are looking for a book a cut above the rest of the genre, this is the one to get. Reviewer: Kristin Fletcher-Spear
Library Journal
In 19th-century Jamestown, Ezra, a young naturalist, becomes obsessed with legends of local seafolk, drawing the attention of a headstrong mermaid named Syrenka. As their tragic love story unfolds, it comes to bear responsibility for a triple murder and a generational curse. Almost 150 years later, teen Hester has guarded her heart, knowing that the women in her family tend to die mysterious deaths mere days after giving birth to their daughters. But even her stony resolve is no match for the handsome stranger (in old-fashioned garb) whom only she can see on the beach. Fama builds the tension as Hester works to free herself and a bevy of ghosts from the dark sea magic holding their souls. The audio edition (Macmillan Audio. 2012. ISBN 9781427222176; read by Katherine Kellgren) was honored by the 2013 Odyssey committee and is well worth the listen, although not for the faint of ears: sometimes it is hard to distinguish who is more vicious, the cruelly beautiful Syrenka or Plymouth’s mean-spirited inhabitants.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up—Seventeen-year-old Hester has already decided that love and children are not part of her future. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her, and her family has a long history of women dying mysteriously after childbirth. At a party, Hester escapes to a beach cave accessible only at low tide and encounters a mysterious man to whom she is inexplicably drawn. Separate chapters tell the story of a mermaid named Syrenka who, more than 100 years earlier, exchanges eternal life in the ocean for life on land because she falls in love with a human. The narration travels back and forth between Syrenka and Hester, eventually establishing how the two are linked. Hester begins to investigate the mystery of the deaths of the women in her family and discovers a way to put the past to rest and free up her future. Mermaid lore and New England history are combined in a riveting tale that is both sensual and unsettling. History buffs, fantasy lovers, and mystery fans will all find something to please them in this engrossing story about a family curse and its cure. A rape scene and some of the other depictions of violent acts make this most appropriate for mature readers.—Kathy Kirchoefer, Prince Georges County Memorial Library System, New Carrollton, MD
Kirkus Reviews
A mermaid's attraction to a man begets both love and evil in the waters off Plymouth, Mass., where these exotic creatures have always lived and will live forever. The romance between Syrenka and her beau, Ezra, in 1872 leads to a particularly disturbing murder-suicide, and the pact she makes with Noo'kas, the queen of the mermaids, has repercussions that reach into the present. In modern times, Hester puzzles over her family history; her female ancestors have tended to die young for generations, her mother included, making her decide to swear off love and maybe have a chance to survive into old age. Fama's lush language makes the past seem as immediate as the present-day scenes. Fantasy elements are incorporated seamlessly, so despite knowing about the mermaids from the first, readers will only gradually comprehend the extent to which they have influenced the lives of those around them. The sense of foreboding grows as Hester learns more and more about the past and struggles to find answers to her questions about her own future. The blend of history and fantasy enhances both storylines as the narrative shifts between past and present, gradually doling out clues. Dilemmas and choices are complex, providing much food for thought. Not so much romance as suspense, this stylish fantasy mesmerizes. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

Product Details

Macmillan Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 5.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1



THE WIND WHIPPED Hester’s hair around her face. She shoved it behind her ears and closed her eyes for a second, taking a deep breath of sea air—faintly like salt, faintly like cucumbers. The ocean filled her with joy and longing, all at once. It was strangely, achingly bittersweet.

She had gone on dozens of Captain Dave whale-watch adventures over the last seventeen years: her best friend’s father was Captain Dave Angeln himself, and her own dad—a researcher at Woods Hole—often used the trips to collect data and observe mammalian life in the bay. When she was a child she had loved clambering up on the ship’s rails, her father gripping the back of her shirt in his fist, and scouring the horizon for the telltale spouts that she was almost always the first to see. She still thrilled at skimming alongside a massive humpback, its slick body and watchful eye hinting at secrets from beneath the surface.

She stole a glance at Peter, a bullhorn hanging in his right hand, his left hand shielding the late spring sun from his eyes. She could see just the side of his face: a high cheekbone, black glasses, a thick eyebrow, weather-beaten blond hair like bristles of a brush, lips pursed in easy concentration. He was looking for whales. His eyes passed right over her as he turned, scanning the bay. In a moment he lifted the bullhorn to his mouth.

“Awright, folks, we’ve got a spray on the horizon off the port bow,” he announced cheerfully. “For you landlubbers that’s the left side as you face forward, near the front of the boat.” The tourists rushed to see, chattering and aiming their cameras. A father hoisted his son onto his shoulders.

“There it is again—eleven o’clock,” Peter said. “Ah! There may be two of them.”

The crowd oohed with delight and pointed eager fingers. Peter announced, “The captain is going to take us in that direction—toward the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank. It’ll be a few minutes, but with any luck we’ll get a much closer look at those animals.”

He lowered the bullhorn and caught Hester’s eye, smiling. He yelled against the wind, “You’re slipping, hawkeye.”

“No fair, I was distracted by something,” she called back.

“Oh, yeah, by what?”

She opened her mouth but nothing came out. The truth was, she had been distracted by him. She had dropped her guard. How could she have let that happen? She felt her ears heat up.

A girl with a pixie haircut and a nose piercing rose from her seat and tapped Peter’s shoulder. He turned away from Hester to answer the girl’s question. Hester examined her; she was boyishly pretty with a heart-shaped face and cherry red lipstick. She wore tight black pants and a gray cashmere sweater with a red silk scarf. The girl’s eyes fairly sparkled as she spoke to him, and her broad smile revealed perfect teeth. Hester felt a little weight press on her chest, and then she felt irritated by the sensation.

Peter took off his Captain Dave’s windbreaker as he talked and Hester tilted her head with a new discovery: his shoulders were broader now. Had she already known that? She’d been friends with him for so long that half the time in her mind’s eye he was a bony six-year-old, hanging on to a swimming ring for dear life at the beach, craning his neck to keep the water from splashing his face, while she recklessly dove under him again and again, just to unnerve him. He was such a funny little chicken back then, she thought. She caught her eyes sweeping over his shoulders and his back again and she forced herself to look away.

She had no business admiring him, or spying on him when he was with other girls.

She pulled a necklace out of her collar—a rounded gold heart with softly brushed edges, on a delicate, short chain. She pushed the heart hard to her lip until the pressure against her tooth made her wince. She reminded herself of the history of the necklace: her dying mother had bequeathed it to her when she was only four days old, and her grandmother had given it to her mother under the same circumstance. According to a story passed down through the generations, the original owner was Hester’s great-great-great-grandmother, a woman named Marijn Ontstaan, who had died of “languishment” or something equally nebulous less than a week after her own child was born.

What a burden that little heart represented for her family, Hester thought, dropping it back under her collar: a legacy of premature death, passed on to innocent new life. It was also a warning, she had decided years ago, against love and its cozy associates: sex and marriage. Other people could dare to love—Peter and the pixie girl, for instance—people who wouldn’t lose everything if they did.

She looked back at the two of them. Peter was showing the girl a specimen of a baleen plate from a whale. From his gestures Hester knew he was describing the filter-feeding process of the whale and telling her that the baleen combs were made of keratin, like fingernails, rather than bone. She had heard him explain it to tourists a thousand times: wholly approachable, never impatient, always sharing a sense of discovery with them. But now his head was so close to the girl’s, they were almost touching. And then they lingered like that; a beat too long. He was neglecting the other passengers, wasn’t he? He wasn’t tracking the sprays of the whales for the captain, as he usually did. The girl brushed her hand over the baleen sample and then grinned as she ran her fingertips over his hair, comparing the two. He received her touch without flinching—maybe even playfully?

Hester needed to lift the weight from her chest. She moved to the back of the boat, to the other side of the captain’s cabin, away from them. She looked out across the water and allowed the feeling of longing to wash over her, spill into the crevices of her soul, and fill her completely.


Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Fama

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Fama is the author of Overboard, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, which appeared on five state lists. She lives with her family in Chicago, Illinois.

Katherine Kellgren has recorded over 200 audiobooks and won four Audie Awards, three ALA Odyssey Honors, and eight AudioFile Earphones Awards. In 2011, Kellgren was named the Best Voice in Young Adult & Fantasy, and she won the Audie award for Best Female Narrator in both 2013 and 2014.

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