Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
Published: May 14th, 2019 (Scholastic Press)
Synopsis: Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.
When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.
Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.
Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.
Thank you to I Read YA and Scholastic for providing me with an ARC of this book at BookCon.
“They were not pretty, these women.
Pretty did not begin to describe them.
They were shrewd.
Powerful. Wily. Proud. Dangerous.
They were strong.
They were brave.
They were beautiful.”
Stepsister begins with the ending of the original Grimm brothers’ version of Cinderella, immediately creating that delightful dark fairytale vibe. Ella and the prince ride off to their happy ending, but this story is about her stepsisters Isabelle and Octavia who are now stuck in a town which hates them for their mistreatment of Ella, still with their overbearing mother due to whose coercion they mutilated their feet in the first place. There is more to this tale, however, as a supernatural element (well, more than a fairy godmother anyway) is added to it. Chance makes a wager with the Fates, that he can give Isabelle a better life than they have written for her, set her upon a better path than the grisly ending that has been already determined. The question is, how to get a girl who has already been through so much, who has always been called ugly, to fight back, accept and forgive herself, and see that true beauty is more than skin deep?
To be honest, Cinderella has never been my favourite fairytale, which is why I’m always eager to read retellings. Having previously read Revolution by the same author, I had high expectations for this one. Adventure, however, was about the last thing I expected from this book! These stepsisters are different. Far from the girls of the original story, Octavia just wants to be left alone with her mathematics and science books, and Isabelle is a fighter through and through. And looming above it all is the gamble between Chance and the Crone, which provided an additional layer of tension to the plot. Chance’s eclectic and decidedly odd troupe, while interesting, linger as background characters who should have been developed as much more. I loved Ella’s eventual reunion with Isabelle and the revelations that follow in that meeting. It was a surprising change to see Ella do something that was not completely good and honourable. I didn’t much enjoy the plotline of a warlord invading the country as it felt like mostly a tool for the Crone to push Isabelle along the path she wanted, and while the ending was fun, it strained credulity for me, with the deus ex machina of the fairy godmother pointing the way just in time yet again.
With unexpected moments of humour interjected into an otherwise dark tale, this is by far the most unique Cinderella adaptation I’ve ever read. The stepsisters are usually a constant as antagonists throughout, but it was so interesting to read this story from one of their POVs! Stepsister is a wonderfully crafted feminist retelling that emphasizes that the journey is just as important, perhaps even more important than the ending – and Isabelle’s path is an excellent characterization of that. Highly recommended!
Stepsister released on May 14th, 2019.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!