Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama sounded like such an incrOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Trigger Warning: Rape is a feature in this book.
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama sounded like such an incredible book, but I was left with mixed feelings.
It's in no way a bad book, I think it's down to personal preference. It's absolutely gripping in regards to writing; I was completely captivated and couldn't put it down, but at the same time, it's also a little slow - or at least, Hester's story is. The story is told in alternating chapters, past - 1872-73 - with Syrenka, and present, with Hester. I was much more interested in what happened in the past than in the future. That was probably because both are linked, and, with Syrenka, the reader sees things as they happen, where as with Hester, we're waiting for her to work things out about the past, and she may not work out what we've just read for another few chapters. Because I already knew what she was trying to discover, I was much more interested in what would happen next with Syrenka. Most chapters would end on little cliff-hangers, and so you'd have to read a chapter from the alternate time before you could find out where the cliffhanger would lead.
I found the intensity of the love in this book a bit hard to believe. It's insta-love, obsessive love, but without much foundation. There are only a few times when Hester has conversations with Ezra, and those conversations are really short. She doesn't really know the guy at all, and yet this overwhelming love seems to hit her out of nowhere. Granted, there could be an explanation for that, but we don't find that out until much later on, so I spent a lot of time frowning at Hester, thinking, "Really?" And with Syrenka and her Ezra, we don't actually see them fall in love. We see the first time they meet, but after that, numerous meetings happen off-page, so perhaps their love is a little more gradual, but we don't see it. Even so, it's also obsessive love. It all just seemed a bit much.
Monstrous Beauty is also a really grisly book. It's full of violent deaths, and Syrenka's transformation into human is pretty horrific. It's not overly graphic and descriptive, but it did turn my stomach a little. At the same time, when things are finally revealed, as to what the "horrific and deadly consequences" as described in the description are, I was left thinking, "Is that it?" Don't get me wrong, I had moments of "woah!", but once the tragedy had happened, I was taken aback by how different it was to what I expected. How the curse is created. I was expecting something a bit more sinister, something evil spawned from the desire for revenge. And though things do get pretty bad, they don't get as bad as I was expecting, and Syrenka didn't turn out to be the kind of person I thought she'd be.
I also felt a little let down by Hester's ending. Once she worked everything out, and realised what she had to do, what she actually had to do seemed far too easy. It wasn't the nicest thing to witness, and she has a few issues, but it was pretty easy in the end. And I felt a little let down by that. After everything that happen in Syrenka's time, after all the tragedy, that's all Hester had to do? I just felt it should have been more difficult. Emotionally, for Hester, it is, but physically, it's the simplest thing.
There's also a little predictability to it, in regards to Hester's time. I'm not talking about what's revealed in Syrenka's chapters, but just in things you have to work out as a reader along with Hester. But Hester took ages to work out things that were pretty damn obvious to me, which just made Hester seem stupid. But I rather think that's a flaw in storytelling, that these particular things were really obvious to me. I can't really say much without spoiling things, but I do think there should have been more mystery around certain elements of the story.
Monstrous Beauty isn't a bad story, and it's a really intriguing The Little Mermaid retelling. I was captivated and gripped, but then also rolling my eyes, and feeling slightly let down by the reveal. But as I said, I think it's mostly just me, and my preference rather than huge problems with the book. It's still a book I think I enjoyed overall, because it's been several days since I finished it, and I'm remembering it pretty fondly, but I did have a few quibbles. So maybe read some other reviews before you decide whether or not you'll read it....more
The Unpredictability of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen is a book I've wanted to read ever since I heard it was about a girl with undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). And while it was a captivating read and enjoyable read, I've finished it with mixed feelings.
The Unpredictability of Being Human is very much a coming of age story. It follows Malin during a specific period in her life when things change. There's not so much of a plot to the story, it's more a snapshot of her life during this time of change. She makes a new friend, she starts to become a bit more interested in boys, her mum goes away on a "business trip" for quite a long time, secrets that have caused the family a lot of pain come to light, and, although she's never fit in or really had friends, the bullying is stepped up when she retaliates after someone steals something from her - though maybe not in the best way. There is an innocence to Malin, and she takes things at face value, not really understanding that she's being lied to and played with, until it's too late. It's quite heartbreaking when we, the readers, know where things are going to go, because Malin doesn't understand that people are being conniving and fake, but are powerless to stop it.
Despite there not being a real plot, I was captivated by Malin's voice. I was rooting for her when she made a friend in Hanna, who treated her mostly well, when no-one else at school did, and also when it looks like things might work out with a boy she likes. And loved her relationship with her cousin, Magnus; how they were close, and he didn't treat her like he would anyone else, unlike everyone else. But was also so sad when people took advantage of her because she's so guileless, and doesn't understand that people are lying to her to get her to do things. And I also wished her family would stop lying to her. Because she's not stupid, she would understand if she was just told the truth and had things explained to her, she would be fine. But instead is treated like she wouldn't understand, so lie to her to make things easier for her, when it's not necessary. It was also kind of sad that she would find bottles of wine in strange places around the house, like the tumble dryer, and not think anything of it, and that her father shouting and yelling all the time, and occasionally punching a wall, is normal and nothing to worry about. But it's great to see how she learns through the book, as she comes to understand things, and how things in her life get better.
I also loved how The Unpredictability of Being Human was set in Norway, where Ingemundsen is from. I loved all the little elements that made this book stand out from other YA novels, which are mostly set in the US or the UK; the names of the characters, some of the words used occasionally, and the mention of how Malin had never been out of Scandinavia. Being set in Norway just gave the book that little bit something extra, that made it even more interesting.
My main problem is that I only know that Malin has undiagnosed ASD because the publicist told me so. It doesn't come up at all in the book. Towards the end of the book, where things were going in a certain direction, I though she might get a diagnosis then, but no. As the book is from the perspective of Malin, we, the readers, are aware that she might be neurodiverse, because of the things she misses that are quite obvious to us - for example, that her mum is an alcoholic. From the other characters treatment of her, it's clear that they know she's "different"; when her mum goes to rehab, Malin is told her mum is going on a business trip, though a strange one where you can't call her at first, and she can't can't come back until 90 days later, or have visitors. She's also called stupid by various people and a moron by her older brother, and she's bullied for being different. But having ASD is never mention in any way. And this worries me slightly. I am all for a character having ASD where the story isn't about having ASD, but 1) I think it will make it difficult for people with ASD who are looking for books with characters like them to find this book, because it's not even mentioned in the blurb, and 2) I worry that the lack of even one mention of Malin having ASD may cause readers to judge her, because they don't understand? I don't think this is an unnecessary worry, as I've already seen one review of someone saying Malin seemed younger than 14, and was annoyed at Malin, though she was naive and did stupid things - the reader obviously didn't pick up on the fact that she has undiagnosed ASD, and judged her. I just think it would have been better if she had a diagnosis, whether it was right at the end, or, if she had the diagnosis before the book even started, and it could be mentioned that Malin has ASD, what that means, and that's it, the story continued without mentioning it again, because it's not the point of the story. But to not mention it at all feels like a disservice to those with ASD, I feel.
Despite this, I still really enjoyed the story, and getting to know Malin. I loved seeing her life, and seeing things improve for her, even if it broke my heart to see things get worse for a while.