Monday, September 17, 2012

Monstrous Beauty - a review

Monstrous Beauty
Elizabeth Fama
304 pages

This is a really good book. I shouldn't even use the term book. Novel sounds so much more classier. This is a really good fucking novel. That "fucking" is italicized to emphasize how fucking good of a novel Monstrous Beauty is.

Yes. It's about mermaids. Yes. It's about a mystery and a curse and a love triangle. This isn't Nancy Drew Solves a Mermaid Mystery, though. This is The Little Mermaid meets American Gods.*

So here it is. An engaging YA novel that pushes the boundaries of the genre. A YA novel that is both entertaining, dark, and prose-y. A novel that's YA and smart. A YA novel that doesn't treat the reader like they're 14. It uses big words and big concepts and expects you to pay attention. Not to placidly sit back and marvel at how beautiful one of the male leads is. It's a YA novel that isn't a YA novel but is a YA novel. 

I can't describe the plot without describing the ending, which is actually the beginning, which is actually part of the charm the entire endeavor. (insert Quentin Tarantino reference here)** So this makes Monstrous Beauty something everyone will have to read to understand.

There's a simplistic approach to the prose-y style of Monstrous Beauty. There's a richness to the writing that seems simple at first. Yet I know each sentence was labored over. It's that kind of quality that's been missing from the last few YA books I've read. Where some authors would write a paragraph to describe the ooey-gooey feelings their characters are having; Elizabeth Fama only writes one.***

I have a blurb for the back cover. I really do. I want--and this is me summing up my appreciation for the novel--to sum it all up with one sentence because I cannot do it in five or six paragraphs: "Monstrous Beauty satisfies a craving that wasn't initially there, a craving for something dark and sensuous, it's as bitter and filling as semi-sweet chocolate, I was glad to sink my teeth into it."

*I never compare anything to American Gods. I reread it every year. So this is a rarity.
**Actually, I wanted to go with M. John Harrison's Light, but I wasn't sure everyone would get that reference.
***The first line of the novel is "Syrenka wanted Pukaknokick." 

26 comments:

  1. "it's as bitter and filling as semi-sweet chocolate, I was glad to sink my teeth into it."

    Not sure if this was meant to be a Haiku, but I think it wound up being one.

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    1. It kind of ended up like that. I did not intend for it to be that way.

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  2. Man I come over here to read a review and I end up wanting to read Monstrous Beauty and Light. Dang it. I have too many books to read. The line about chocolate makes sense and now I am going to put this book on my to read list.

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    1. Light is fairly good. It's complicated. But good. I never read the sequel to it.

      I felt a comparison to dark chocolate was fitting.

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  3. Agreed on all points. I am so glad everyone is loving this book so much! This one is only just out and I'm already ready for her next book.

    Also, somehow you managed to throw lots of things I really like into one blog post. Monstrous Beauty, Chocolate, and American Gods. High fives to you!

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    1. It was really, really good. I'm glad that I forgot about your review entirely (no offense) so everything was a surprise to me.

      It really is comparable to American Gods. I should know, I've read it ten times.

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    2. (no offense taken!) It was really hard to put thoughts down, as you know. I went the wordy route, as always. You didn't. Simple. Plus mine went up in early February, so it is easy to forget. Also, you are typically forgetful anyway (no offense). My blog posts are dangerous and that's why there are different ways people can read them. :)

      Again, I LOVE the comparison to American Gods and I love that you've read it a bazillion times. I love that I'm reading it again.

      This is a good one, Adam. Good job.

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  4. I really like where you talk about the end of Monstrous Beauty being the beginning. That really captures the book well, especially how I felt when I finished it. Though I didn't express it as well. (Honestly, though I have not a clue what about QT you're referencing in that paragraph).

    Also, I don't think I could sum up this book in a sentence or several paragraphs, so way to go there. Agree, love the chocolate reference. I think I need to go get me some.

    Unrelated: Your strange time stamps are starting to bug me. What time zone does it think you're in?

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    1. Thank you. Just that ending, it's expected but unexpected and just ties everything together. I think if I reread the book (which I might) I will notice things that I missed.

      I am talking about Quentin Tarantino's ability to tell a story out of order. He does it perfectly. So does Elizabeth Fama.

      I ate a bar today.

      I'm in Eastern Standard. I think. I'm not sure what blogger has me listed as. I changed it once and it went right back to waht it was before.

      Delete
    2. It was set as Pacific time. I changed it to Eastern. Let's see what happens.

      Delete
  5. American Gods, eh? That's a bold statement. It's one of my favorite books in the history of ever. And is it HC Andersen Mermaid or Disney?

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    1. Oh I know. Trust me. I don't think I've ever used that comparison before. I read American Gods every winter. It's my Christmas book, so to speak. So... yeah.

      I'd go with Anderson.

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  6. I might have to read this one next thanks to your review. Brilliant! :}

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    1. You should! It'll take you to some dark places.

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  7. This had me at American Gods. I love Neil Gaiman, he's one of my favorite authors.

    I love when YA doesn't treat readers like their idiots. I love big words as well. I'm kind of torn on mermaids. It's extremely hit or miss for me. But this actually sounds really good.

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    1. Same here.

      I love that too. It doesn't happen enough. I know we're reading books for teens, and we're adults, but teens aren't stupid either. Sometimes they're smarter than adults.

      Delete
  8. Whoa..Little Mermaid meets American Gods?! How..what...I now must read this book to understand!!! Great review, Adam!

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    1. Oh yeah. If American Gods had mermaids in it... this book would be it. I could actually see it as an extension of the universe. Her writing would sync up with his as well. Both have incredible prose and distinct styles.

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  9. Little Mermaid meets American Gods...now I have yet to read American Gods, but I love everything else I've read by Gaiman, so I need this. Also, I've seen this cover in person and it was an effort not to drool. I like how you compare it to bittersweet chocolate--lately I've preferred milk chocolate myself, but I appreciate the analogy. You should totally send your blurb to the publisher--I'd put it on the book.

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    1. The cover art alone was why I bought it in hardback.

      I will attempt to send my blurb to a publisher. I don't think I'm anyone, though. Thank you!

      Delete
  10. I have had the worst luck with the mermaid trend. But so many people have assured me that this book is different. Your review has done a pretty good job convincing me that this may be the mermaid book that breaks the pattern

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  11. This book has everything to keep you warm on these cool fall nights: mystery, romance and drama a plenty. This is a DEFINITE must read.
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  12. Elizabeth Fama has written something truly incredible with this book and I will definitely be following her work from here on out. Outstanding novel!

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  13. I really enjoyed this book. Syrenka and Hester had very different voices and ways of talking so it was easy to switch back and forth between their POVs, which is always a plus. The characters were compelling, the pace of the book was spot on, and I definitely recommend it to all lovers of YA mermaid tales :D

    Marlene
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