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Book Review – Stepsister by Jennifer Donelly

‘In an ancient city by the sea, three sisters – a maiden, a mother, and a crone – are drawing maps by candlelight. Sombre, with piercing grey eyes, they are the three Fates, and every map is a human life . . .’

Stepsister takes up where Cinderella’s tale ends. We meet Isabelle, the younger of Cinderella’s two stepsisters. Ella is considered beautiful; stepsister Isabelle is not. Isabelle is fearless, brave, and strong-willed. She fences better than any boy, and takes her stallion over jumps that grown men fear to attempt. It doesn’t matter, though; these qualities are not valued in a girl. Others have determined what is beautiful, and Isabelle does not fit their definition. Isabelle must face down the demons that drove her cruel treatment of Ella, challenge her own fate and maybe even redefine the very notion of beauty . . .

Cinderella is about a girl who was bullied; Stepsister is about the bully. We all root for the victims, we want to see them triumph. But what about the bullies? Is there hope for them? Can a mean girl change? Can she find her own happily ever after?

Review

To win the prince’s heart, her mother forces Isabelle to cut off her own toes to fit into the glass slipper. Of course their scams come true and they are almost rejected. Isabelle is not a beautiful girl and from then on it is not easy for herself, her mother and her sister. Fortunately she gets a chance to turn their accident around … but what sacrifices are needed for that?

From the very first chapter it became clear to me that there is no mess with Isabelle. Stepsister starts off quite fiercely, with a fairly graphic description of how the girl cuts off her own toes. It is advisable not to read this chapter if you have just finished eating a liver sausage sandwich. It is horrible that the girl does this to herself and still has to come from the cold fair, but also that she is praised by men for her courage (but then discarded).

The short chapters make it possible for you to fly through the book and that there is a nice pace in the book. A lot is happening and Isabelle is sincerely trying to make something of her life. She is not hopeful and that makes this an interesting look at the fairy tale. Isabelle turns out to be a real warrior and this made her beautiful in my eyes. No matter how much she was puked by others, she continued to search for her true destiny in life.

This also gave me a certain amount of pity for her. Of course we mainly know the positive side of the story, where the beautiful and sweet Ella is saved by the prince and that her nasty step sisters and step mother get what they deserve. In Stepsister we get to see another side. A side that shows that it doesn’t have to be all that black and white. A story full of jealousy, wishes, dreams and opportunities.

Isabelle is growing as a person. Grows as a person. And above all she learns to accept that beauty is not something that a woman must necessarily aspire to. I found her powerful, interesting and a character with content. With every page my sympathy for her grew.

I really enjoyed Stepsister. The book was different than I expected. More powerful, darker and more feminist. It is really about the power that women can hold, even though everyone says they should be good and beautiful and, above all, keep their mouths shut. There was some zest in this story and I loved that. It is highly recommended!

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