STEPSISTER By Jennifer Donnelly
Hot Key Books, s/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
Everyone knows Cinderella – wicked stepmother, ugly stepsisters, fairy godmother, handsome prince, happily ever after, etc., but what happens after that? What happened before that – what made the stepsisters mistreat her so?
Donnelly’s sequel (of sorts) begins with the stepsister Isabelle cutting her toes off to make her foot fit in the glass slipper, after her sister Octavia has already tried cutting her heel off to fit her foot. It goes without saying that this doesn’t work either, and Cinderella escapes from the house, marries the prince and they never see the stepsisters again.
But here’s where the story changes – according to ancient mythology, the Fates map out and control our lives. In Stepsister, Chance steals the map of Isabelle’s life from the three sisters, and wagers that she can change her fate as well as her life. With both Chance and one of the Fates trying to direct Isabelle’s life in opposing directions, anything could happen.
Flashbacks show how Ella and her stepsisters used to be friends, playing happily together until the mistreatment of the stepsisters by associates of their father caused them to change their characters and start to become the product of others’ expectations.
Donnelly’s powerful prose adds substance to the tale, and she changes this most beloved of stories to make the reader have, if not sympathy, then at least empathy for the stepsisters. She really does bring to life the damage that words can cause – how an unkind word can change people’s lives in a very negative manner.
This is a must-read for anyone that has read or watched a version of Cinderella – whether you cheered when she got her happily ever after, whether you wondered if there must be more to life than fairy stories, or even counted yourself in the minority that secretly wished for one of the sisters to marry the prince. A compelling read that you will not want to put down – will Isabelle change her fate? Is she destined to be ugly – inside and outside – forever more? What would make someone cut their own toes off just to marry a prince? Will there be a happy ending? A morality tale that manages to come across as not too preachy – Stepsister should be a must read for girls and boys of all ages, everywhere.