Book Review

Review: Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

I nearly made the mistake of judging this book by its cover. The black background/highlighted object felt more Twilight than Rebel Girls. It turns out that it is that attitude that makes a stepsister into an ugly stepsister. And I am so thankful I gave this book a proper chance; it is one of the best I’ve read all year!

Title: Stepsister

Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Pages: 352

Publication Date: 14th May 2019

Extract From the Blurb:

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.

The story begins with the non-Disney version of the tale, of two bitter stepsisters who have maimed their feet in order to secure a prince. Isabelle, the youngest – entitled, bitter, mean – is left nursing her bleeding foot as her beautiful and pure stepsister Ella rides off into the sunset, leaving her to remain as ‘ugly’ – both inside and out.

I admit I also had low expectations for the story. I was imagining a wholly bitter stepsister, or one dimensional characters that would be unrealistically petty or struggle to justify their redemption. Instead I found something completely different. And even worse, there were parts where the story, dialogue or slapstick comedy was actually funny. The ‘evil stepmother’ referring to cabbages as the Duke of Burgundy, the wit and snark shown by Tavi, monkeys running riot. It didn’t feel at all forced – just delightful.

What made this especially good, was that the story wasn’t just focused on Isabelle hating (Cinder)Ella for succeeding where she had failed. Instead, a war is spreading across France, Isabelle and her sister are struggling to survive and Chance and Fate have taken an interest in her mapped out life.

I particularly loved the crossover between a number of fairytale/mythological tropes: Fate vs Chance playing dice over mortals, the faerie queen; 3 objects of power, 3 parts to a heart, all with a background of something ominous coming. And actually, the almost unknown (except for name) invader worked well as motivation and in giving a sense that there was so much more to this world, to these stories and to the work of Chance and Fate.

What made this book so good for me, is that Isabelle doesn’t scrabble or beg for redemption – she fights for it every step of the way, until she is fighting to redeem herself for more than just Ella’s story, but for her own.

Thanks to NetGalley, Bonnier Zaffre and Hot Key books for my ARC – it was a genuine pleasure to read this!

A clear and comfortable 5* rating.

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