{Review} BEAUTIFUL TO ME: A Little Mermaid Retelling by E.L. Tenenbaum

Love fairy tales and mythology?
Fans of mermaids, dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures?
Enjoy when a beloved classic tale is retold?
A Twist in the Tail Thursdays features all this and more!

O P E N I N G   H O O K:

   ONCE UPON A TIME, I would not have found wonder in an idyllic snowcapped mountain range or beauty in the colors of the sky watching the sun set from land.
For I once lived in the enchanted kingdom of the sea where the sand glistens a deep cobalt blue and the surface most often ripples from flying fish and leaping dolphins. Though all waters are his domain and all creatures who dwell therin his subjects, there is a center of the underwater world where the Sea King built the castle he calls home.

(Page 8, US e-book edition)

"We were not allowed to interact with humans. We were different. We could only be the death of each other."

I am always so excited to learn about a new mermaid book in the world, especially when it's a retelling of one of my favorite tales, The Little Mermaid.. I love how right off the bat, we find out that no version of the story up until now has ever gotten it right: Not the Hans Christian Andersen tale, not the Disney movie, etc. Parts are true, but many are not. For example, there are two mermaids at the heart of the tale, not one. And one of the mermaids is named Ariel -- and it is she who is now writing down her story to get the truth out there before she turns 300 and returns to the sea after living a full life.

Ariel never wanted to live on land. She enjoyed being a mermaid, and there is no place lovelier than her home. The Sea King's youngest, most beautiful daughter Sienna, however, is obsessed with all things human. Everyone thinks she'll grow up and outgrow it, especially once she is able to see land with her own eyes on her fifteenth birthday. Instead, Sienna lays eyes on a land prince and becomes instantly infatuated. She makes a deal with a sea witch named Tatiana, who cuts out her tongue and gives her legs that are constantly in pain. Sienna has one year to make the prince love her truly. After a short period of time, it becomes clear that Sienna has yet to endear herself to her prince. Worried that the Sea King will declare war on the human world, Tatiana makes a deal with Sienna's shadow, Ariel.

Ariel was raised by parents who live as nobles in the sea king's court. As such, she has been privileged to grow up alongside the princesses. Sienna was her age, and was too snobby to see the girl always at her side. When Ariel hears about how Sienna's sisters encourage her to sing her prince into the sea so they can be together forever, she breaks the surface before her fifteenth birthday and saves the prince from drowning, bringing him safely to shore. She still has no plans to live as a human, but Tatiana saw her play saviour and uses it to get her to agree to be human in order to convince Sienna to give up her folly and return to sea. In return, Ariel may keep her tongue, and her legs will not know the daily pain that Sienna's do. Ariel agrees reluctantly, eager to return home to the sea, never imagining the curveball destiny is about to throw her -- and Sienna.

The writing style in BEAUTIFUL TO ME is reminiscent of TIGER LILY by Jodi Lynn Anderson (which is FANTASTIC; check out my review!). It is a tale being retold, one with a narrator who recounts her past. It isn't a first-person "in the moment" read, like so much of current YA. This style takes a little longer to read, but adds in the ability to reflect back and enhance Sienna's story. Sienna has no voice and isn't capable of telling her tale -- and probably doesn't want to. Ariel, however, doesn't want her princess to be forgotten and wants to introduce her to the world. This wouldn't be possible if the book was first-person or had chapters alternating between the two mermaids. Sienna remains a mystery even now because Ariel is not omniscient and oftentimes must guess at what Sienna might have felt or thought. We never know what Sienna actually thinks, and this is how the story works best!

The fact that there are two central female characters that take focus reminded me of MERMAID by Carolyn Turgeon (Need more Little Mermaid retellings? You need this one, too, so check out my review!), though they are vastly different from one another and not really similar at all. I love that there are TWO mermaids at the heart of this story, not a mermaid and a convent princess like in the original Andersen tale. There is still heartbreak and loss, but also joy.  I like how both of these retellings manipulated the original so completely while still keeping some aspects the same. I think it's refreshing to have a central protagonist who is NOT obsessed with the human world and longs to return home, despite the fact that she was barely noticed as a mermaid. Her life as a human is so much more vibrant and full, yet the sea continues to call to her. I really enjoyed this approach!

I also liked that Ariel had a lot of her own issues that she had to come in terms with over the years. As a mermaid, she was considered overweight --and hid beneath a shirt she created. She was a loner, a shadow. Despite growing up alongside Sienna, Sienna barely recognized her in human form. Despite still being heavier on land, she isn't condemned and is loved for her mind and wit and talents --and told she is perfect just as she is. I like that weight wasn't the focus or considered a hindrance --and that Ariel wasn't forced to change her appearance. 

If you love retellings of The Little Mermaid, BEAUTIFUL TO ME adds enough new elements and twists to keep you intrigued. It is also the third book in author E.L. Tenenbaum's End of Ever After series. I didn't read the first two, which are retellings of Cinderella and Rumplestiltskin, and you don't need to in order to enjoy this, though both make a quick cameo at the very end of the book. There's also a preview at the end for Tenenbaum's retelling of Beauty and the Beast, another of my favorite tales!


Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG ( kissing )
Language: --
Violence: --
Other:  --
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

That underwater palace is lovely, and this cover looks so tranquil. I would absolutely pick it up at the store to see what it was about -- and I would be hoping for mermaids!!
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: E.L. Tenenbaum
Release Date: Feb. 26, 2019
Publisher: Fire & Ice Young Adult Books
Received: For Rreview 

Princess Sienna is the most beautiful, the most charming, the most beloved of King Trident's daughters in the enchanted underwater kingdom. Not much is denied her, and all of Merdom favors her.

Then a few days after her fifteenth birthday, Sienna does the unthinkable. She makes a bargain with the sea witch to trade her tongue and tail for a pair of legs and a chance to live a human life. Stung by her betrayal, Merdom turns its back on her.

Having grown up in Sienna's shadow at court, Ariel is used to being unnoticed. So when the sea witch specifically asks her to go after Sienna and convince her to return home, Ariel is under no illusions; she is expendable. Still, out of obligation to her king and kingdom, she goes, thinking to slip in and out unnoticed as always.

The moment she sets foot on land, however, everything changes.

BEAUTIFUL TO ME is the third installment in the End of Ever After companion series that rewrites classic tales of happily ever after.