cover image Monstrous Beauty

Monstrous Beauty

Elizabeth Fama. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-37366-5

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.)