by Gail Carson Levine, published 1997
“Decisions were a delight after the curse. I loved having the power to say yes or no, and refusing anything was a special pleasure.”
This children’s book, perhaps more accurately young adult book, has a very unusual premise: that the gift of innate obedience is actually a curse. The book is set in a magical world where fairies and fairy godmothers intervene actively, giants roam the land, and Prince Charming indeed is lurking at the end. But the main human characters have a contemporary feeling to them, which allows young girls to easily identify with Ella, the heroine.
At a certain level, the book offers a message to young girls to learn to think and act for themselves, to learn to be true to themselves. When you think of the intense power struggles between 11 to 13-year-olds and their parents, this book clearly shows just how bad it could get. However, I have to admit that as I read this children’s book, I didn’t really feel the ‘message’ quality of it. That’s neither good nor bad… just an observation that perhaps the message, if it is intentional, slips into the subconscious. Or more likely, since I’m not a pre-teen, that quality of struggle with obedience isn’t my own story.
Nevertheless, the story is exaggerated enough to be funny as well as unlikely, and it’s the twists and turns of the plot that kept me turning the pages. In addition, excellent writing on the part of the author, with a good sense for drama, humor, and fantasy, makes this book a fun read. This is a light-weight diversion that young girls, 11 and up, may enjoy escaping into for a while.
A media warning: as usual, I discovered after reading this children’s book that there is a movie version. I strongly suggest staying away from the movie, which is a very poor and trite reworking of a well-written book.