Monday, 31 August 2015

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

I have been dragging my heels on writing this review. That would be because it's one of the dreaded reviews where I didn't dislike the book in any way, but neither did I love it. It left me fairly ambivalent, and while I'm willing to concede it's a sweet take on fairy tales, there was nothing that made me fall head over heels.

In case you haven't read it or seen the movie (I have not seen the movie), Ella Enchanted is about Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty with a pluckier heroine. Sleeping Beauty, because a fairy shows up at her christening, and gives her, well, it's supposed to be a gift. But when the gift is obedience, and that means anyone can order you to do anything...yeah. And her father remarries and an evil stepmother moves in with her two loafish daughters, and poof! We also have Cinderella.

So Ella is a fairy tale for a more feminist age, and that disappoints me even more, because I would like to love it because of that. There is nothing I really dislike about this book, and I would not be upset if hypothetical children of mine read this. (That bookshelf is getting a little crammed.) However, there are a whole raft of books I'd be pushing into their imaginary little hands first.

I do like the take on the problem of giving magical gifts to young girls at christenings, as well as the underhanded emphasis on the virtue of disobedience. Ella finds ways to be disobedient even as she's obeying, refusing to be the sweet malleable child some around her would want her to be. Even those who discover her secret and take advantage of it find that she'll still uncover ways to get them back.

The love story is cute, and founded in two people liking each other, sharing an interest in sliding down banisters, and developed through a long correspondence. The prince is similarly strong in having his own mind about things. The kingdom Ella lives in remarkably progressive in some ways, although there are still ladies' finishing schools, and jerks like Ella's father who are more interested in making money than they are in their families.

In this book, magic isn't the answer, and that's plain and it's clear, and it stands in stark contrast to The Uncertain Places, which I reviewed a few days ago. The latter book is for adults, but it caught me much more strongly by showing just why someone might resort to magic in the first place, creating a more complex tale. Because I read these two books almost back-to-back, it means that my lingering thoughts on Lisa Goldstein's book seeped into my experience reading this one. Ella Enchanted is already fairly slight, and it becomes slighter in my memory because of this reading coincidence.

I love reading books about fairy tales. I am a total sucker for them. That being said, Ella Enchanted just did not do it for me. There's absolutely nothing objectionable about it. There's just not enough charming to make it truly magical.

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