Everything Sad is Untrue
If you're going to tell your own version of a classic fairy tale, and then spin it out a little longer to explain what happens after the original tale ends... Donnelly certainly knows how to do it with style. Stepsister starts, rather gruesomely, but true to the original Grimm's version, when the two stepsisters are trying on the glass slipper and then continues after that... almost. Before we start with the slipper fitting however, there's an intriguing prologue involving an interaction with the Fates (three sisters, but mainly the eldest aka the crone) and a dastardly and dashing fellow known as Chance. In my mind, I pictured him with the braggadocio of Johnny Depp in his Pirates of the Caribbean role. Chance steals a map from the crone, and initially, I thought it was Cinderella's lifeline, but then we find out that it is one of the stepsister's, Isabelle. Chance and the crone place a little wager on whether Isabelle can change her destiny as outlined on the purloined map and then the story begins. What I loved most about this tale is that Donnelly often throws in a little twist - not significant enough to be a major plot disrupter, but just big enough and frequent enough that the ENTIRE story, I was never sure about what was going to happen next. I also loved the language, the descriptions and the way everything that seemed insignificant came together and mattered.
I'm not sure if teens would love this story as much as I did; I've always loved fairy tales and their alternate versions. Isabella is a fantastically strong female character who discovers the pieces of her heart that have been cut away, and finds a way to make herself whole. There are great messages contained within the story but it never gets preachy in its tone. I'll be anxious to see what young adults think of it. The story is complex enough that you definitely need to be an avid reader in order to enjoy it.
Isabelle struggles with the fact that she is considered ugly and at one point asks the fairy queen to make her pretty. Here is a female companion of Chance attempting to make Isabelle feel better about being called names...
“Now, now, child. Ugly’s not such a bad thing to be called. Not at all! In fact, we’ve been called far worse . . . . Difficult. Obstinate. Stubborn. Shrewish. Willful. Contrary. Unnatural. Abominable. Intractable. Immoral. Ambitious. Shocking. Wayward. Ugly’s nothing. . . . Pretty … now that’s a dangerous word. Pretty hooks you fast and kills you slowly. . . . Call a girl pretty once, and all she wants, forevermore, is to hear it again. . . . Pretty’s a noose you put around your own neck. . . .”
I could have picked several other passages that had significance. The book is just that well written. Highly recommended for those who love fractured fairy tales.
Middle School former Teacher Librarian - then MYP math and science. Update... VERY recently retired! Still adjusting that I'm not just on summer vacation!!!
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