Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: YA Retelling/Fantasy
Release Date: May 14th 2019 from Scholastic
Format: Kindle ARC
**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for a free and honest review. All thoughts are my own and no quotations will be used**
Goodreads Synopsis: Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.
When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.
Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.
Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.
When I saw the STUNNING cover (a favorite of the year for me) on social media and read the synopsis, I knew that I NEEDED this book. I love when retellings of popular fairy tales are taken in a different direction from the original source material, whether it changes the plot or focuses on a different character. We follow Isabelle, whose of the “ugly” stepsisters that cuts off her toes to fit into the glass slipper. The beginning of the book is this scene and it’s from the Grimm’s version of the fairy tale. I was so surprised that this scene opens the book and things just unfold from there. This story was frustrating at times, sad, but very meaningful and overall so satisfying! Here’s the breakdown of my thoughts:
- Writing: I highlighted SO many passages in my Kindle ARC copy of this book. So many lines just spoke right to me and felt so raw and reminded how human we all are. Jennifer Donnelly is a very well known historical fiction author and you really see her shining writing style in the prose of this story. This girl and her mother and other sister are relentlessly reminded how terrible they are and are shown no mercy. Rotten food and rocks are thrown at them, prices are unreasonable and the horrible name calling really brings both the pain and the anger from Isabelle. You see the frustration of how Isabelle is trying to not only fit into the village, but also find what she really wants. The author unfolds a story and shows you the complexity in a girl that you really begin to root for.
- Isabelle: I loved our protagonist so much! She really reminds me of myself in so many ways that it surprised me sometimes. She is angry at her situation and at herself and she lashes out at people and those she loves. She lies to herself about what she really wants, even though deep down she’s unsure. Her growth throughout the story felt so authentic and I felt so relieved and truly happy with how things turn out for her. I was worried if she really would find out what she wanted and that shows how well characters are created. She’s feisty, strong and deep down she is caring and also very hurt at what she allowed herself to become. If you’re looking for a female lead to really root for, Isabelle is one of them.
- The side characters: The main standout characters for me were Tavi, the other stepsister, their mother and Hugo who is a boy who lives on a farm and becomes involved with the family. First, Tavi is a book worm girl who only wants to be left alone with her books. She’s persecuted and taunted for knowing so much about math, history and many other things. She even proves men wrong on some occasions, but they still mock her and only see her as a simple female. She has a moment where she gets mad at Hugo and it really strikes you in the feelings, since she doesn’t explode like Isabelle does. Then, we have their mother and while I hated her with very fiber of my being, she is a very well crafted character. The way she turns to a mirror for what she really is and doesn’t care about her daughters at all shows how desperate she is and how her motivations are long gone. While she is very much a character in a fairy tale, her brutal honesty and sad moments do make her human and pity her a bit. Finally, we have Hugo, who is a boy that lives on a farm. He is surprised at how different the girls and just can’t understand why they want to be different. But his small character arc shows that people can change if they’re willing to listen.
- Magical Elements: There is a specific magical element that’s central to the story that I really enjoyed, but I won’t say what it is here. It was a fun take on fate versus destiny and enough details to make it enjoyable.
- Themes: Of course, the powerful themes of self identity, finding yourself, forgiveness and your inner strength is the driving force of this book. Like I said before, these themes really speak to me even though I’m an adult. It’s stories like this that remind us that we were young once and that it’s never too late to change. Plus the way these themes come to an end in the final few chapters was so satisfying!
- Middle section: I will admit that the pacing did drag in the middle. It felt like information was the same and it felt like the story wasn’t moving quite as well as I had thought. It’s not very slow, but just felt like it was spinning its wheels before picking back up.
- Alternate chapters: Besides Isabelle, we also follow Fate and Chance who try to mess with Isabelle’s life. While they are personified aspects of fate versus taking a chance, I feel like they were in it a bit too much. I wish they’re chapters were more sparse and focuses on Isabelle more. This is a small preference thing and didn’t affect my rating very much.
Overall: I really loved this book! This is a great feminist fantasy retelling of Cinderella that reminds us what makes us human and how we deal with our weaknesses. Isabelle is another character that’s feisty, sad but willing to always put up a fight for her own choices. Don’t miss out on this amazing book! I need to read the other books by this author now.
Have you read this yet? If so, what did you think of this? Are you excited for it? What other Cinderella retellings do you love? Let me know in the comments!