Book Review: Stepsister
Written by Jennifer Donnelly
Published by Hot Key Books
Publication date: 15th May 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
This is a dark tale. A grim tale.
It’s a tale from another time, a time when wolves waited for girls in the forest, beasts paced the halls of cursed castles, and witches lurked in gingerbread houses with sugar‑kissed roofs.
That time is long gone.
But the wolves are still here and twice as clever. The beasts remain. And death still hides in a dusting of white.
It’s grim for any girl who loses her way. Grimmer still for a girl who loses herself.
Know that it’s dangerous to stray from the path.
But it’s far more dangerous not to.
A wad of soft cotton was brought. A fresh white stocking. Brandy. And the glass slipper.
Maman handed it to her. “Put it on. Hurry,” she said.
Isabelle took it. It was heavy in her hands and cold to the touch. As she slid her foot into it, pain bit into her, sharp‑toothed and savage. It moved up her leg and through her body until she felt as if she were being eaten alive. The blood drained from her face. She closed her eyes and gripped the arms of her chair.
And yet, when Maman demanded that she get up, Isabelle did. She opened her eyes, took a deep breath, and stood.
Isabelle could do this impossible thing because she had a gift—a gift far more valuable than a pretty face or dainty feet.
Isabelle had a strong will.
She did not know that this was a good thing for a girl to have, because everyone had always told her it was a terrible thing. Everyone said a girl with a strong will would come to a bad end. Everyone said a girl’s will must be bent to the wishes of those who know what’s best for her.
Isabelle was young, only sixteen; she had not yet learned that Everyone is a fool.
First impressions: When I first saw this advertised I wanted to read it…yet I was cautious. I am a massive fan of fairytales and I love retellings. However, I have also been disappointed in the past by retellings that somehow don’t manage t capture the magic of the original. Luckily, Readersfirst were offering the option to read the first three chapters so I felt reassured that I would be able to read them and decide whether or not it would be worth reading…well, wow!
From the first line, let alone the first three chapters, I was blown away!
This is what I wrote then: “The writing is smart, fast-paced and instantly creates characters who the reader can connect with, vividly evoking them in just a few small details. I loved meeting the Fates and Luck/Chance in the prologue, then Isabelle and her sisters in the first chapter. I can just tell that I’m going to love this!”
Unfortunately, this now meant that I had to wait to read the rest of the book so I devoured it as soon as it appeared through my door a few days later.
I am happy to report that my first impressions were accurate and I absolutely adored this book. Both Isabelle and Tavi are interesting, well-rounded characters whereas Cinderella comes across as nice, but a bit bland.
Th story starts with Chance stealing a map from the Fates – each map shows the life of a human and is, at least in theory, unchangeable. Yet Chance wants to give Isabelle the opportunity to change her fate. We meet out main character as she and her sister mutilate their feet to fit the glass slipper…and yet, we all know how the fairytale ends.
The story then picks up in the aftermath of Cinderella leaving with the Prince and everyone finding out how badly she was treated. Isabelle, Tavi and their mother become outcasts and have to try to find their way in a world that has no space for girls who like riding, swordfighting and science.
I loved the message that societl norms are not everything and that girls can be everything they want to be, regardless of what the people around them say.
What I liked: How realistic all the characters are, the feminist messages, Chance and his devil-may-care attitude, Isabelle and her determination – strangely I liked her right from the start, even when she’s not being the most pleasant! I liked the inclusion of the Fairy Queen, Tanquil, and how she is seen almost as a force of nature, neither good nor evil.
Even better if: I didn’t have enough time with the characters! I didn’t want this book to finish!
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a great addition to any library for teenage readers and would be fun to read and discuss after looking at the ‘original’ fairytale and all the variants of Cinderella from around the world. I would love to use this to discuss themes in fairytales, gender roles and the dichotomy of fate and free will. So many things to get your teeth into when using this book in the classroom!
(Thank you to Readers first and Hot Key Books for my compeition win of a proof!)
What did other readers think?
“This story made me root for the “ugly” sister, it made me feel for her and hope for a happy ending for her.”
Sam @BookTiAmo said:
“This is such a beautifully written story, the writing style is so wonderful and easy to read and I have so many wonderful quotes! It is a wonderful story about women and all the things they can be and do.”
Thanks for reading!