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Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Scholastic Books, 1998
At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: “Instead of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.” When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella’s life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.
Gail Carson Levine’s examination of traditional female roles in fairy tales takes some satisfying twists and deviations from the original. Ella is bound by obedience against her will, and takes matters in her own hands with ambition and verve. Her relationship with the prince is balanced and based on humor and mutual respect; in fact, it is she who ultimately rescues him. Ella Enchanted has won many well-deserved awards, including a Newbery Honor.
Once upon a time, a little girl read this book, and it enchanted her, and she knew that one day, she would write books that enchanted others, too.
Fast forward almost twenty years, she hasn’t written any books (yet), but she did decide to re-read this book that had inspired her dreams all those years ago.
Anyway, the girl is me, if ya’ll didn’t figure it out.
Ella Enchanted was one of my all time favorite books as a kiddo, and when I first downloaded Libby through my library, the audiobook was one of the first books I borrowed. I listened to it while I waited for my first COVID vaccine (get vaccinated!) and ya’ll, even as an adult, this book is magical.
And as an adult, the magic is difference. Ella’s curse to always be obedient no longer is just what it appears to be on the surface. As an adult, you realize that this curse doesn’t just exist in children’s literature. Women, even today, have always been born with the expectation to be obedient.
The book was so much more profound with this realization. The one thing I didn’t really love about the book was the ending. It still gave me the impression that a woman needs a man, and for a fairytale that screams ‘girl power!’, I thought it could be better. It wasn’t just that she ended up with Prince Char (which, I definitely don’t blame her for. He was one of my very first fictional boyfriends.), but rather how much weight Char’s existence had on her finally being freed from the curse.
But besides that, this book was such a fun throwback, and re-reading it was a great way to care for my inner child.