Gail Carson Levine,
Ella Enchanted
(HarperCollins, 1997)

As an avid and enthusiastic devotee of fairy tales, whether in their most traditional and earthy garb or dolled up in modern drag -- or even Disney-fied -- I have encountered innumerable takes on the Cinderella story. This one is particularly precious, because it answers a lot of formerly grand leap assumptions.

For example, why did an otherwise spirited young lass tolerate subservience at the hands of her stepfamily for so very long? Perhaps she was under a curse. All of those tales about a fairy or other magical sort bestowing gifts upon children at birth that eventual lead to trouble are echoed here. And what was Cindy's father's problem? Talk about absentee daddies! Turns out, there a reason for that, too.

Gail Carson Levine is a charming writer with a whimsical sense of humor. Her characters are well and fully drawn, and particularly her heroine, her prince and the fairies (there are two major ones here and a sprinkling of others) do not soon leave the reader after the book is closed. This will not fail to tantalize and delight fans of Donna Jo Napoli, Robin McKinley and even the Harry Potter crowd. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire is similar, but directed at a slightly more sophisticated audience, and is also tons of fun.

by Stephen Richmond
21 January 2006

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