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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
Growing up, I loved the stories of "Cinderella," "Snow White," and "Sleeping Beauty," but models of modern feminist ideals, these heroines were not. Hedged in the tales of beautiful ladies were life lessons: Being attractive comes from within; kind deeds will be repaid in favor; what you see is not always what you get.
Francesca Lia Block shakes up the traditional tales in The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold. With clean and punchy one-word titles such as "Ice," "Tiny," "Glass," and "Beast," these 21st-century heroines are far more empowered, bold, and inspirational than their classic sisters. Each of Block's nine tales sings, maintaining the perfect balance between lyrical descriptions and understated monologues by the protagonists that shadow the thoughts of many of today's typical teenagers.
In the story of "Wolf," for example, "Little Red Riding Hood" is retold by a teenage girl who is sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend. She plans a big escape, and while the tale could have been played out as an after-school special on television, Block candidly acknowledges the hokey premise of this story line when the heroine says to herself, "Same old boring story America can't stop telling itself. What is this sicko fascination? Every book and movie practically has to have a little, right?"
The difference between this and other stories with the similar sexual abuse theme (or even this and its classic counterpart, "Little Red Riding Hood") is that the heroine in "Wolf" is not rescued; she rescues herself. She removes herself from a dangerous living situation. She confronts her sex abuser. She extracts revenge. Toward the end of the story, this heroine, who seems to possess the spirit of Thelma and Louise, thinks to herself, "Maybe one night I'll be asleep and I'll feel a hand like a dove on my cheekbone and feel her breath cool like peppermints and when I open my eyes my mom will be there like an angel, saying in the softest voice, 'When you are born it is like a long, long dream. Don't try to wake up. Just go along until it is over.' "
Without the "and they lived happily ever after" finish to "Wolf," as well as all of Block's other stories in this collection, readers are not left with an uplifting everything-is-perfect ending. Instead, each tale offers an element of surprise, and all of the heroines in The Rose and the Beast have learned something about themselves. In "Snow," for instance, it seems as though a relationship with Snow's mother (you may remember her as the Queen, formerly known as the fairest one of all in "Snow White") is about to develop when Block takes another turn in her writing. The beloved heroine Snow teaches a lesson about finding love in unforeseen places.
It is also necessary to expect the unexpected from "Beauty in Beast": "Her hair was always a tangle, she bathed less often, her skin smelled of the garden and the forest, she was almost always barefoot." While her transformation is temporary, Beauty's reaction to her metamorphoses is at the heart of Block's writing: These modern teen heroines are much more grounded and easier to relate to than their whimsical classic counterparts. While I will never stop cherishing the traditional fairy tales I read as a child, Block's twists on the timeless stories make for an equally memorable read.