Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly
Published on the 14th of May 2019
YA Fantasy, Retelling
I received a free e-copy in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley, the author and the publisher! Receiving a free copy has in no way affected my opinions.
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.
Stepsister is a retelling of Cinderella from the stepsisters’ perspective. The storyline goes beyond the point where Cinderella usually stops, and we get to see what actually happened to the stepsisters when Cinderella had married the prince and moved to the palace.
The story starts from the prince looking for his mysterious princess who left behind a glass shoe. But bewarned, Stepsister doesn’t follow the Disney version, but the original one in which the stepsisters cut off their own toes and heels to squeeze their feet into the glass slipper. This is where the story picks up, with Isabelle holding a knife over her own toes, being egged on by her abusive mother.
Stepsister reads like a Disney movie. It is action-packed but still whimsical from talking squirrels to necklace stealing monkeys. But this doesn’t mean that the book is childish or for children. In fact, Stepsister has a young tone but it is filled with very distressing events. There is war, abuse, bullying, and violence. It is an eerie, dark fairytale in which the characters aren’t pure and the magic is neither.
Stepsister has been advertised as a feminist retelling of Cinderella, and oh boy, finally we have a book that delivers on the feminism front. Body shaming and beauty ideals are obviously discussed, but so is the role of women in general, the need for getting married and the place of a woman in the world. Stepsister takes strong stand against abusive ideals but still shows them in a realistic light. This is the kind of rep I have been looking for in all books that have been described ‘feminist’; deep and thoughtful discussion about the unequality in the world and how it could be solved. This isn’t another fantasy with a sword-wielding main protagonist who isn’t like the other girls (although that trope can be done well too).
I also loved that the two stepsisters in the book were not similar. They had their own passions and interests, and at times they couldn’t understand each other, just like sisters do. Tavi has a keen interest in the sciences and she makes funky experiments when given the chance, while Isabelle would like nothing more than train with soldiers and lead a group into a victorious battle.
Stepsisters has a bit of an odd sub-plot with Fate and Chance playing a game around the lives of the stepsisters. I couldn’t really connect to this part of the plot nor was I very invested in the characters of Fate and Chance. This meant that at times I felt a bit disconnected from the story.
While I really liked Stepsister, I thought that the juvenile writing style didn’t really go together with the story. When I started the book, I was at first slightly worried that it would be directed at the middle grade-young adult gap rather than the more usual older spectrum of YA (like 16+). There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t read a lot of middle grade nor younger YA, and so Stepsister at first seemed like not my cup of tea. However, with all the dark and gruesome elements of the plot, I can’t believe that Stepsister would actually be directed towards younger YA. This combination left me a bit baffled; was I just imagining the younger writing style or was it meant to balance out the gruesome aspects of the plot? I think I would have ended up liking Stepsisters a bit more if the writing style was a bit more mature.
Overall: I really liked Stepsister and I would warmly recommend it to quench your thirst for feminist retellings of fairytales. I especially loved the multiple quotes that the book had!
Is Stepsister on your TBR? Or have you already read it? Also, are you a quote loving person? I really like finding great quotes from books and I usually scribble them in my bullet journal to make even my non-bookish parts of life bookish!
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Thank you so much for reading (and I hope you’ll take part in the giveaway!)