Author: Gail Carson Levine
Year Published: 1997
Page Count: 288
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 0060558865, 9780060558864
Awards: Newbury Honor
Ella is born in the Kingdom of Kyrria to a loving mother and a somewhat absent father, and is cared for by their (fairy in disguise!) maid Mandy. When she is born, the fairy Lucinda (who has a talent for meaning well and doing wrong) gave her the “gift” of obedience. Her mother dies when she was ten, and her father marries a (what a surprise!) very evil woman, who brings two (shockingly!) mean stepsisters into the family. Most of the book concerns Ella’s quest to lift this curse, as well as her unconventional, well-written love story with Prince Char.
This was the book of my childhood. Seriously. It was this and “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles.” My best friend and I read this book countless times. It deserves its reputation as one of the finest books of children’s literature. “Ella Enchanted” is an excellent twist on the classic Cinderella tale. The heroine is strong (but human), the stepsisters are wicked (but human), and the Prince is suitably dashing (but human). The best thing about this book is that all of the characters are complex. It’s not just another feminist retelling of a supposedly sexist fairy tale (though I’m not saying those retellings don’t have their place). And it’s not an “if I were a princess” fantasy for young girls.
That being said, there are a few cliches that jump out at me, now that I am a more mature reader. Ella is clumsy. There’s nothing wrong with that. What is wrong with that is that every single heroine is now clumsy, as if its an easy way of saying “Look, I make mistakes just like you!” or “See? Though I’m pretty, I’m still awkward. See?!” Also, that part where Ella see’s Char burning all her letters and says: “I loved to see him, even if he was doing something horrible” (I paraphrase) is a bit of a gag-me-with-a-spoon moment. And in a post-Pokemon world (my little brother is obsessed with them), I can’t help but think of Char as being short for Charmander, and every time he comes on stage in the book, I hear a still, small, sneaky voice inside me saying “Charmander, I choose you!”
Other than those nit-picky details, the book is excellent. It certainly didn’t deserve to be turned into that awful Miramax film of the same name. Gack! Just don’t watch the movie. Read the book! This was the first Gail Carson Levine book I had ever read, and it really got me into reading her work as a whole. She is the reigning queen of Fractured Fairy tales. She’s put out other gems like the many books of “The Princess Chronicles,” “The Wish,” and more recently, “Fairest.” You could do worse than to read her work, which is both respectful of her source material and delightfully innovative.