STEPSISTER, by Jennifer Donnelly , Scholastic Press, May 14, 2019, Hardcover, $17.99 (young adult)
I’ve read a number of really good YA novels in the past month or so, but none did I enjoy more than Jennifer Donnelly’s Stepsister.
Stepsister follows Isabelle, one of Ella’s stepsisters, in the aftermath of the slipper debacle. A la Aschenputtel, by the Brothers Grimm, Isabelle cuts off her toes to fit into the shoe. We know what happens next — Isabelle (and her sister who cut off her heal) are found out, and Ella wins the prince.
Now crippled and an outcast, Isabelle is struggling just to get by. Had she any looks, Isabelle would have been settled long ago, but she’s a smart, plain girl with no fortune. And now that she’s maimed, Isabelle’s an easy target, too.
Isabelle is desperate to become pretty. It’s her heart’s greatest desire. And with that single broken wish, she has the chance to change the trajectory of her life.
Obviously, there’s more to Stepsister than the vague synopsis above, but it’s better left to readers to discover the intricacies on their own.
One of the things I really dislike about Cinderella, particularly the Disney version, is the delineation of pretty = good and ugly = bad. Telling children that you are defined by looks, which are arbitrary in the first place, is not the message I want my daughter learning. As with most things, beauty is not clear-cut.
Isabelle thinks herself ugly because that’s what she’s been programmed to believe. She should be sweet, humble and kind. A keen mind and a thirst for learning are discouraged. When Isabelle compares herself to Ella — to who she “should” be — she becomes the exact opposite.
Most of us do not fit into Cinderella mold. We are more complex, and that is what Stepsister celebrates.
Jennifer Donnelly is a bestselling author, and it’s not hard to understand why. Stepsister takes a familiar story and flips it sideways. Jennifer’s writing is enjoyable and accessible while challenging and thought provoking.
Stepsister is hands down one of my favorite YA reads of 2019.
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