Book review: 'Monstrous Beauty' gives a spin on mermaid tales

Published: Saturday, Sept. 8 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

'Montstrous Beauty'

"MONSTROUS BEAUTY," by Elizabeth Fama, Farrar Strauss Firoux Books for Young Readers, $17.99, 295 pages (f) (ages 16 and up)

Mermaids, ghosts, curses, folklore, family history and a love story are entwined in Elizabeth Fama's dark paranormal novel "Monstrous Beauty."

Syrenka is a mermaid who lives off the coast of Plymouth, Mass., and in the 1870s, she falls in love with a man named Ezra. When an opportunity presents itself for her to become human, she does it, but a secret in the tiny community isn't always easy to keep. A determined neighbor seeks to expose Syrenka, but her plan turns deadly and the ripple of consequences affects a baby girl and the community and involves an underwater curse.

In the present day, Hester Goodwin is 17 and knows what has happened with her mother and grandmother — they've died a few days after giving birth to their first child, in each case it was a daughter. She's determined not to love or marry to not continue this family oddity that has caused so much pain, and no one can seem to identify a cause, much less look for a cure.

But she doesn't tell anyone her decision, including her friend, Peter, who would like to be more than just a friend.

Hester meets a man named Ezra down by the beach to whom she is incredibly attracted and might have some of the answers she has been seeking about her family.

As she digs deeper into her family history and into the local lore around several deaths on the same night nearly a century before, other forces work to keep things the way they are.

The story alternates back and forth between the lives of Syrenka and Hester in a way that weaves the stories without being confusing.

Fama's take on the myths of mermaids in the history of Plymouth is entertaining, and she weaves the stories in such a way that draws the reader in but doesn't resort to cliches. She has constructed an underwater mythology that's thorough, if a little creepy.

There is some swearing in "Monstrous Beauty," along with sexual innuendo, general descriptions of a rape and of more than one violent death.

If you go ...

What: Elizabeth Fama book signing

When: Thursday, Sept. 13, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com

Email: rappleye@desnews.com

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