Sunday, May 8, 2011

Arty -- Just Ella by Margaret Petersen Haddix

Everyone knows the story of Cinderella. Right?

Well, Just Ella goes a little bit further and deeper. Sort of.

It opens after Prince Charming has asked Ella to marry him, and, of course, after she's accepted. She now lives at his palace, waiting for the wedding to take place. But all is not happily ever after. The men are vapid and shallow, and the women try to teach Ella to be a 'proper lady' with endless embroidery lessons and much fainting. No, this is not what Ella expected - especially when she starts to fall out of love with Prince Charming... and into love with her tutor, Jed.

Ella's starting to find out that happily ever after doesn't always come that easily.

I love most of Haddix's other works (Double Identity is my favorite), so I'm convinced that she was just having a bad day when she decided to write Just Ella. The whole thing reads like a bad satire on traditional fairytales. The utter depravity of everyone who doesn't happen to agree with what Ella believes is ridiculous - especially considering that only one person really agrees with her.

The behavior of Ella's attendants is even more laughable. True, women are more 'delicate' in fairytales than most modern authors like. But Haddix blows those tendencies entirely out of proportion. If she's trying to make a feminist point, it's not a very well-supported one.

Then we have Prince Charming and Jed, the two 'love' interests. Prince Charming, on the one hand, is base, selfish, and weak. Jed, on the other hand, is thoughtful, funny, and a total wimp (that last one's my addition to what Haddix tries to get across). How Ella could ever choose Charming in the first place is beyond me; why she'd settle with Jed is just about as far away. Neither are round or interesting; they're just there.

Speaking of just there, that's pretty much the story. Looking back, I'm not even sure there was a real story, in the strictest sense of the word. Ella doesn't like castle. Ella hates Prince Charming and loves Jed. Ella gets in trouble for trying to get out of marriage. Ella is in jail. Ella gets out of jail. And on and on it goes. Ella just... drifts. It's not that she doesn't have a purpose. It's that the purpose is so in your face and bland that you really can't care.

Basically? This is a book to stay away from. I can't recommend it to anyone, unless you're in a mood to laugh at something. Sorry, Ms. Haddix - stick to original stories, please.

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