Hello Kittens! How do you guys feel about fairy tale re-tellings? I am a fan of them, personally, which is why I jumped at the chance to read an upcoming release that is a re-telling of Cinderella. This is a YA fantasy book that features a black female lesbian protagonist. It is a debut for this author, who has signed a 2-book deal with the publisher. It’s always hard to know how a book like this will land in my area of the country, but I really enjoyed this read. It wasn’t perfect, but I honestly enjoyed this take on the classic Cinderella story and I was rooting for the protagonist throughout. Give it a try if you’re willing.
Title: Cinderella is Dead
Author: Kalynn Bayron
Author website: https://www.kalynnbayron.com/
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Publish date: July 7th, 2020
It has been 200 years since Cinderella married Prince Charming, and all who live in her land know the story by heart…all the girls at least. Things have changed a little bit since Cinderella sat on the throne. First, there are a set of decrees that are designed to “protect” the women of this land. Things like curfews and rules about obeying their heads of households (all men, by the way). Additionally, a ball is held in honor of Cinderella’s fairy tale ending every year, but attendance is now mandatory for every young woman of marriageable age. Girls come to the ball to be chosen by their husbands. If they are not chosen by their third ball, they are considered “forfeit” and are sent to work as laborers in service to their kingdom.
This year, a young woman named Sophia is agonizing over the upcoming ball. She’s read Cinderella’s story over and over again. She knows it by heart, as do all of the girls in this land. The only problem is, she wouldn’t have chosen a prince for herself, she would much rather have married a princess. She is in love with her best friend Erin and has no desire to be “chosen” by any man at the ball. As she struggles with what her parents and her country expect of her, desperation sets in. Not content to accept her fate, Sophia begs Erin to run away with her. If they’re caught, they’ll be put to death and their families will suffer, but Sophia sees it as their only option. Erin, however, is not brave enough to turn away from their fate and endanger her family.
When the night of the ball finally arrives, everything goes wrong and Sophia ends up fleeing for her life. As she runs from the castle, she encounters a young woman named Constance who is a descendant of one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. Constance begins to unravel the tale that Sophia thought she knew and they both set off on a course to change this world for all of the girls who are still trapped in it. It won’t be easy. They’ll have to seek magic that they aren’t even sure exists and will still need to return to the castle to confront the evil king. No one thinks they will win, but Sophia and Constance know that there are no other options.
Why I liked it:
I appreciated that the original story was kept in tact, but that the author played with the interpretation of events. I think that Sophia is a well-developed character and the reader is invested in her personal growth throughout the story. There are some emotionally gutting moments in the story that the reader feels as viscerally as Sophia does. I also appreciated that Sophia’s inner monologue directly addresses what might feel like inauthentic moments in the plot. In particular, I appreciate how Sophia’s feelings about the witch are expressed in the story. Up until it was put on the page, I found her acceptance of Amina to be a little too convenient, but Bayron gives the inner monologue the authenticity that was lacking a little in the dialogue.
I really appreciate that we get a Cinderella (both in the character of Sophia and the original Cinderella) who is more of a warrior. I know Disney likes their happy, uncomplicated endings, but I like a Cinderella who has a little more depth to aspire to. The Cinderella that we get in this story suffered a terrible fate, but she was a fighter who was trying to do what was right for her people. Admirable.
What I would like to change:
We get thrown right into the story here, and that was pretty disorienting for me as the reader. We get a lot of information dumped on us at the very beginning, which feels a little awkward because the book is 400 pages long. I was left wondering what the rush was and it made the first part of the story feel clunky. Once that initial portion was over, we moved on to a little more action.
I also didn’t love Erin’s development in the story. I felt like the character was sacrificed but that her motivations didn’t line up with what the reader was told about her. She’s in a relationship with Sophia up until the ball and then she suddenly shuts it all down? Her first foray into marriage is with a highly abusive man and she doesn’t take an opportunity to run? I can understand her staying if the pattern of abuse was more established, but by all accounts she had a good home life and a reason to believe in Sophia. I just didn’t quite buy into that part as a reader.
Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.
My library rating: Like I said, it’s hard to peg how a title like this will be received in my area of the country. There are certainly people who will object to it for a number of reasons, but I think in terms of my ability to recommend it to patrons, it still has a lot of potential. I hope there will come a day where I don’t need to worry about someone screaming at me or writing to the local paper because a Librarian recommended material that they consider “inappropriate” to their child. I hope it comes soon.
3 glasses of lemonade= a book that you could recommend to coworkers and friends you don’t know very well.
My personal preference rating: I gave this title 4 stars and look forward to the author’s next book.