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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Beautiful to Me by EL Tenenbaum is the third book in the End of Ever After series. Ariel has always been on the sidelines observing life in King Trident's kingdom. But her life changes when the king's daughter Sienna takes a trip above and Ariel is sent on a mission to retrieve her. Sienna risks the favored life she has by bargaining with the sea witch for a pair of legs. Ariel's journey on land isn't what she expected. A quick trip to fetch the missing princess and return home doesn't go as easily as she thought when the princess refuses to return.
EL Tenenbaum delivers a fresh perspective on the tale of the little mermaid, taking the beloved fairy tale and putting a new spin on it. Ariel considers herself unremarkable and goes about largely as an onlooker to everything happening in society. She's spending time on the sidelines watching Sienna's story progress similar to the classic tale, taking the place of the mermaid princess that daydreams of life on land. Ariel's role shifts from an onlooker to a messenger tasked with fetching the princess, which changes when she gets on land and Sienna refuses to leave. On land, Ariel finds her own adventure and a place for herself which allows her to see the beauty and wonder of this new place. She develops bonds with humans, which surprises her but makes her conflicted about returning home. The journey after Sienna becomes a journey of self-acceptance and discovery for Ariel who finds love and friendship.
Beautiful to Me is a love story which takes a few turns but ultimately has a sweet conclusion. In the water, her two closest friends are dolphins that constantly support her while also providing humor. Tenenbaum incorporates nods to fairy tales throughout, including a delightful moment with a frog. The tone, progression, and pace of the story are reminiscent of a fairy tale, framed by Ariel's memories as she's looking back over her life. Beautiful to Me is a lovely retelling of The Little Mermaid and a sweet love story everyone will adore, with Tenenbaum exploring the idea of beauty through the wonder found in a strange new world and the self-beauty Ariel finds in herself.