“Cinderella” has seen many variations, but few detail what happens beyond the royal marriage, and even fewer cast a light on Cinderella’s family. Printz Award-winning Donnelly (A Northern Light) does both in this feminist rendition that follows “ugly” stepsister Isabelle. Rather than becoming a proper lady as her abusive mother demands, Isabelle would prefer to ride horses with her soulmate Felix, collect “rocks and animal skulls,” and practice her swordplay. Abandoned by Felix and without other prospects, down two toes by her own hand, and with her family fortune dwindling, she faces a bleak future. Then, meddlesome Chance steals the map of her life from the Fates and grants Isabelle the opportunity to revamp her destiny, and a fairy queen tasks her with finding the missing pieces of her broken heart in exchange for a wish. The story offers plenty of adventure as one of the Fates, Chance, and the queen of the fairies battle wills, and Isabelle confronts precarious situations as she becomes involved in a war between France and an evil warlord. Focusing on beauty’s many guises, what contributes to hatred and cruelty, and people’s power to take charge of their destinies, the retold fairy tale advocates autonomy and empowerment. Ages 12–up. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (May)
Praise for Stepsister:
* "Printz Honor winner Donnelly offers up a stunningly focused story that rips into the heart of familiar fairy tale. Isabelle [is] a shattered but not unredeemable girl with a warrior's heart." Booklist, starred review
"This is another needed voice exposing cultural myths that suffocate girls in the name of likability and pit them against one another in the name of beauty." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Isabelle's emotional and triumphant journey of self-realization proves that beauty can be found in so much more than just a pretty face . . . A breathlessly exciting and utterly satisfying fairy tale." Kirkus Reviews
"Focusing on beauty's many guises, what contributes to hatred and cruelty, and people's power to take charge of their destinies, the retold fairy tale advocates autonomy and empowerment." Publishers Weekly
An Amelia Bloomer Project RISE selection
Gr 9 Up—Donnelly brilliantly reimagines what happens after the "happily ever" in "Cinderella," from the point of view of Ella's ugly stepsister Isabelle. As in the original Grimms' tale, Isabelle cut off her toes to fit into the glass slipper but failed to win the prince. Her destiny has long been drawn by the ancient female Fates who map each human life. Their charming rival Chance steals Isabelle's map and wagers the oldest Fate that he can change the path of Isabelle's life, thus beginning a chess match with Isabelle as the pawn. Despite Isabelle's best efforts to behave, her anger always wins out, especially after the hypocritical townspeople shun and ridicule her and her smart older sister Tavi for how they treated Ella. Isabelle's lost everything—her beloved horse Nero and the groom's son Felix, with whom she spent her childhood riding and sparring. Tanaquill, the fairy queen, shows herself to Isabelle and says she will grant her greatest wish if Isabelle can "find the lost pieces of her heart." Military history–loving Isabelle must use her wits, courage, and strength to withstand the many hardships she faces as she tries to forge her own way. She learns to value herself and not let others define her or what she can do. VERDICT This first-rate fairy-tale retelling effectively portrays female strength and determination and will resonate with readers who want to be valued for who they are, not what they look like.—Sharon Rawlins, New Jersey State Library, Trenton
An ugly stepsister gets her own story in this twist on "Cinderella."
The beautiful and kindhearted Ella's foot fits perfectly into the prince's glass slipper, leaving her stepsisters, Isabelle and Octavia de la Paumé, with their cruel mother, ostracized in a village that has branded them as cruel after trying to deny Ella her chance at happily-ever-after. But cruelty often masks a broken heart. Eighteenth-century France is no place for bold girls like Isabelle, who is inspired by great warriors, or for unabashedly brilliant girls like Octavia, who admires great mathematicians and scientists. Isabelle is an unwitting pawn in a wager between Chance and Fate to stop a vicious warlord who is cutting a murderous swath through France, but a fairy queen makes her a tantalizing offer. Donnelly's (Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book, 2017, etc.) gorgeous prose doesn't shy away from the visceral: In the horrifying opening scene, which mirrors the Brothers Grimm original, Isabelle cuts off her own toes and Octavia slices off her heel to fit into the glass slipper, and the final battle scene is a corker. Isabelle's emotional and triumphant journey of self-realization proves that beauty can be found in so much more than just a pretty face. Chance has dark skin and black hair; other main characters default to white.
A breathlessly exciting and utterly satisfying fairy tale. (Fantasy. 12-18)