Book Review: The Stepsister's Tale

The Stepsister's Tale
Published By: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: June 24, 2014
Page Count: 272
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Audience: Young Adult - Fairy Tale Inspired

Cinderella has long been one of my favorite fairy tales and the Disney version kept me mesmerized for hours as a child. Who wouldn't want Cinderella's life? But what if the story we always knew about the beautiful, overworked girl and her evil stepsisters wasn't exactly true? What if Cinderella was actually, in many ways, the annoying and obnoxious one? If you've ever wanted to hear a different version of Cinderella told from the perspective of one of the stepsisters - this is the read for you.

I was interested to see how Tracy Barrett would take the timeless tale and put her own spin on it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't a petulant girl who refused to help with basic chores and couldn't handle being poor. I have always seen Cinderella as a resilient fighter who deserves her happily ever after. It took me awhile to warm up to the fact that this is not the Disney version and Cinderella is a spoiled brat. I spent the majority of the novel rolling my eyes and sighing loudly at her antics, but I did find that around the middle I started to warm up to her. I was also happy to see that by the end of the novel there are glimmers of the traits I loved in the Cinderella of my childhood.

As the title suggests, this isn't really a story about Cinderella, but rather about her stepsisters, Jane and Maude. The novel largely focuses on the perspective of Jane, the older of the sisters. Jane lives in a decrepit manor house in the forest. Her mother cannot let go of the family's glorious past, but the bank accounts have long since dried up. The house is crumbling around the family, but nothing can be done due to the lack of decay and the lack of funds. To make ends meet, Jane and Maude begin doing farm work, making cheese, and gathering berries and mushrooms. The level of poverty this family endures - particularly during the winter - was often difficult to read. I just kept waiting for that moment when the happy ending showed up. I rather enjoyed getting Jane's perspective; it was a new take on an old story that I wasn't expecting. The stepsisters are always portrayed to be the villains, but that wasn't the case in The Stepsister's Tale.

I did find that the beginning was somewhat slow and slightly boring. My mind kept drifting and I kept wondering when things would pick up a bit. I got my answer somewhere in the middle. Once Jane begins to visit the Foresters things picked up for me. I wish the entire novel had read like the middle and ending.

All in all, I really liked this one and would recommend it to those interested in a different perspective on Cinderella. I liked that Barrett forced me to think about how things are not always what they seem: the rich are not always happy, fairy godmothers may or may not exist, and the prince is not always charming. This would make a great read for middle school students as some of the characters are closer to their age and it's a squeaky clean read.

One Last Gripe: I was frustrated that Jane's mother didn't do more to help her girls. She was like an ostrich - she just kept burying her head in the sand and hoping that things would work out on their own.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: I like the commentary on social hierarchies and gender roles.

First Sentence: The house - it was too small to be called a palace - sat at the top of a hill, overlooking thick woods and a river.

Favorite Character: Jane

Least Favorite Character: the stepfather

What really happened after the clock struck midnight?

Jane Montjoy is tired of being a lady. She's tired of pretending to live up to the standards of her mother's noble family-especially now that the family's wealth is gone and their stately mansion has fallen to ruin. It's hard enough that she must tend to the animals and find a way to feed her mother and her little sister each day. Jane's burden only gets worse after her mother returns from a trip to town with a new stepfather and stepsister in tow. Despite the family's struggle to prepare for the long winter ahead, Jane's stepfather remains determined to give his beautiful but spoiled child her every desire. 

When her stepfather suddenly dies, leaving nothing but debts and a bereaved daughter behind, it seems to Jane that her family is destined for eternal unhappiness. But a mysterious boy from the woods and an invitation to a royal ball are certain to change her fate...

From the handsome prince to the evil stepsister, nothing is quite as it seems in Tracy Barrett's stunning retelling of the classic Cinderella tale.