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Reviewed by:
  • Monstrous Beauty
  • Kate Quealy-Gainer
Fama, Elizabeth . Monstrous Beauty. Farrar, 2012. [304p]. ISBN 978-0-374-37366-5 $17.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 8-12.

In 1872, Syrenka forsakes her life as an immortal mermaid and joins the human world to be with her lover. Their union is short-lived, however, ending in his death, her rape, and a curse that haunts Syrenka's descendants for generations. More than a century later, seventeen-year-old Hester is convinced that if she falls in love (and more significantly, has sex and then gives birth) she will die—like her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother. A chance meeting with a handsome stranger has Hester rethinking her stance on abstinence, but as her investigation into her family's history reveals only more misfortune, Hester is certain that even if she can lift the curse, she will end up alone. The bittersweet story is threaded with unresolved tragedy, making it compulsively readable. Chapters shift their focus between Syrenka and Hester, but, as Syrenka's actions serve as the story's catalyst, she is the far more compelling protagonist—she is indeed, as the title suggests, a monstrous beauty, both seductive and dangerous, and her well-intended but ultimately selfish choices have repercussions beyond her imagining. Bearing the brunt of these consequences is Hester, whose need to dispel the ghosts of her past before she can build a future will resonate with teens. Though not as stylistically sophisticated as Margo Lanagan's The Brides of Rollrock Island (BCCB 9/12), this explores similar themes of love, possession, and fate. [End Page 80]