Thank you to Netgalley, Jennifer Donnelly and Bonnier Zaffre for my arc of Stepsister in exchange for an honest review.
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Format read: Ebook
Publication date: 14th May 2019
Page Count: 352 Pages
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Genre: retelling / feminist
Synopsis: a reimagining of the Cinderella story from the perspective of one of the ugly stepsisters and themed more on the original (and more gory) Grimm’s fairytales. Isabelle is turned away in shame when the prince discovers she has chopped off her toes in order to squeeze into the glass slipper. Isabelle has always felt like she cannot be herself, she is feisty and strong in a world that wants her to be demure and feminine, she is plain, in a world which wants her to be beautiful. As she has cut away pieces of herself over the years she has become jealous, heartless and cruel. Until she gets a chance at a new destiny and a chance to put the pieces of her heart back together.
I have such a bunch of mixed feelings about this book. As a retelling it was well done. But also confusing. Not only was the original Cinderella story in there but also some Greek mythology and some other random stuff and it made it a bit messy. Fate here, chance there, fairy godmother who wasn’t really a fairy godmother but a fairy queen who ate live rabbits. I get that the author was trying to make the tale darker but I always think sticking with one lot of mythology or legend works fine without bringing them all into the mix.
In saying that, I wasn’t a fan of Fate or Chance who didn’t feel like they belonged in this story but I did like this darker faerie queen.
The characters and the plot, this is the bit that has made me feel conflicted. On the one hand, I loved that Isabelle was secretly fierce and had all these different things going on, and that her mother has suppressed her and she’d got the opportunity to finally have a chance at a life of her own on her own terms. I loved that she was constantly told that beauty wasn’t important and what was within is what counts. Absolutely these are things that we should be teaching girls. However, what I didn’t like is the way being beautiful or pretty was spoken of in this context like it was a bad thing. In fact parts of it really felt like to be pretty was considered inferior which really isn’t that just reversing the bullying? People can’t help how they’re born, be it plain or pretty, absolutely what’s inside and the kind of person you are is the most important thing but that applies whether you are pretty or not. I don’t think that the lesson here should be that pretty means weak or inferior. So yeah, I didn’t like that.
The story itself was ok, it felt like a short story dragged into a lot of pages but I enjoyed it. I didn’t feel like I wanted to race to the end and it took me a few days to get through as it wasn’t a page turner or exciting but I think part of the message in there is important if not all.