Review: Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I got this book at the KL Alternative Book Fest from the DRAM Projects’ booth, and haven’t really bothered to pick it up until a couple of days ago. And the reason I picked it up was because I moved my computer table and now it’s closer to my shelves, which means I take out books at random and flip through them while waiting for pages to load. I was immediately interested in continuing the book, but I was already in the middle of Maria Tatar’s Enchanted Hunters and I don’t want to read anything else until I’m done. But the next time I was waiting for a page to load, I picked up Just Ella again. And again. Then, as I was going to Face Affair, I slipped Just Ella in my bag as well as Enchanted Hunters. By the time my hair was being blow-dried, I was on the last chapter. Heh. So much for not wanting to read anything else.

Just Ella is definitely one of those easy, fast, enjoyable reads. It’s not Ella Enchanted, but it’s an interesting interpretation of the Cinderella story. Ella is definitely the hardworking, smart, spunky Cinderella type I love. And I like that unlike most Cinderella retellings I’ve read, this book reads more like a sequel to the fairy tale. What happens after “happily ever after”? Can you really fall in love with someone you just danced with at this one ball? (Okay, in some of the older stories there were three balls, but still.) Ella finds castle life smothering and boring, where everyone was only nice to her because she was betrothed to the prince and she was bound by so many rules and conventions it’s a wonder she didn’t go insane with it all. She rarely sees the prince, and when she did, they only spend a short time together (with a chaperone), where his only conversation is, “you’re so beautiful.” Fortunately, she does find friendship in Mary, one of the servants, and Jed, one of her tutors.

What I found irritating in this book (for me, at least) is that it is set in the past, being a more “traditional” retelling in that sense, but the language is very modern. I don’t mind historical novels using modern English – most of the time I even prefer it – but I find phrases like “more power to them” too jarring. The cover is misleading, too, I think; when I first got it I thought it was a “chic lit” type retelling, like Robin Palmer’s Cindy Ella. I was surprised to find out that it wasn’t.

If you’re looking for a Cinderella with fairy godmothers and magic, this isn’t the book for you – Ella uses her smarts to get what she wanted. Having said that, this retelling isn’t exactly “meat” either – you should be reading Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted instead. But if you’re looking for a fun, easy retelling with a heroine who would punch the prince in the stomach, then give Just Ella a try.

~ originally posted on livejournal


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