Monday, December 22, 2014

The Stepsister's Tale by Tracy Barrett

This summer, Disney told the story of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of Maleficent. Tracy Barrett has now told Cinderella's story from the perspective of the stepsister. It's an interesting interpretation of the story that seems a bit removed from the original.

Jane's mother has high standards for her daughters to present themselves as ladies like their ancestors always have. That would be easy for Jane to do, if they weren't living in a house that was nearly beyond repair and she weren't forced to work in the family's dairy so that they could survive. When her mother returns from a trip with a new husband and stepdaughter, Jane thinks this might be the answer to their prayers. However, her new stepsister seems a bit stuck-up and her stepfather has his own set of debts. None of this helps them, especially when he suddenly gets sick and dies. In the meantime, Jane forms a friendship with a family of people who lives in the woods, people that she'd initially been warned by her mother to stay away. Then the prince comes with an invitation for all unmarried women as he seeks one particular lady - a girl he met one day on his travels. Jane realizes he means her stepsister Isabella, and while she would love the opportunity to "get rid of" the girl, she begins to realize the prince might not be the happily ever after they were all looking for.

This retelling of Cinderella feels very removed from the original story that everyone seems to know. Given that it's from the perspective of the stepsister, that's to be expected, but at times it felt like a completely different story. For the most part, it feels like a story about a girl whose class status shifts due to unfortunate events and is now living the life of poverty and how she adapts to this life. It addresses misconceptions about people - Will from the family in the woods thinks she's high and mighty because of her class, which is completely wrong because her family has less than his, and she thinks he's too proud to associate with her; then Jane has a misconception about Isabella who has a misconception about Jane. It's a theme throughout the book about how people aren't what you think and how status and title doesn't make a person good. When it comes to the actual Cinderella parts of the story, there's a nice twist to the whole ball and prince that fits with the themes about misconceptions and makes it more original. For the most part, though, this novel felt like it was Jane dealing with their living conditions and trying to survive and keep her family from falling apart. For a while, I kept wondering when the whole Cinderella story was going to happen. I don't know what to make of the Cinderella character, though. For the most part she comes off as a whiny brat and is barely in the book. I would have like more of her, or seen her character develop more. I had very little sympathy for her. I also would have like a bit more clarity with the epilogue. There's closure for a happy ending, but I thought it was a bit vague in terms of where everyone ends up. I wanted more specifics or nothing at all. 

The novel is an interesting interpretation of the story of Cinderella. It is definitely the author's take on the familiar tale, although that tale is more of a secondary story compared to everything else going on in the novel - so keep that in mind. It was an enjoyable read though.

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