Book Review: Step Sister, by Jennifer Donnelly

Cinderella has found her prince, but what happened to her ugly step sisters after that? Can the bully change and find happiness of her own?

By
Step Sister teaches us that we can be in control of our life.
Overall
3.5

What happened to the Ugly Step Sisters after Cinderella married her prince and lived happily ever after? Was there any remorse for how they had treated their sister? Did the sisters eventually marry the men of their dreams?

Jennifer Donnelly has written the story of Isabelle, one of the ugly stepsisters, and her journey after Cinderella has left. Isabelle is strong-willed and fiery. She wants nothing more than to be pretty like her step sister. But can she change her fate?

Donnelly is an American author who is best known for her historical novel A Northern Light, which won the 2003 Carnegie Medal. Step Sister is her second novel that looks at what may have happened after a fairy tale has ended, her first being Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book.

Isabelle and Octavia (Tavi) seem to have nothing after Ella (Cinderella) has gone. They are left with facing the derision and ridicule of the people who live in the village. With little money and no friends, how will they survive? Both girls had, under the direction of their mother, chopped off pieces of their feet in order to fit them into the glass slipper. Isabelle is left bitter and maimed and unable to walk without pain. She blames everyone else for her life.

Fate (personified as an old crone) has mapped out a life of misery and anger but Chance (a charming devil-may-care larrikin) has other ideas. He challenges Fate to a test. Can he change the direction of Isabelle’s life? Can he give her the happiness she has never had? Can she become the person she was truly meant to be?

The story is set in France in the 18th century, a time of kings and wars, when men fought battles and women did tapestries and cooking. Women didn’t need to be clever or brave.

Donnelly has moments of brilliance in her turns of phrase. I found myself savouring passages like: “I’m always doing things I can’t do. Otherwise, I’d never get to do them.” There were laugh-out-loud moments and, at times, I shed a tear. This book took me through a roller coaster of emotions. Isabelle seems to have no control over her lot in life, but Donnelly encourages the reader to truly look inside ourselves and become the person we were meant to be. All we need is a chance.

It is also about making decisions and the repercussions those decisions can have. Split second decisions that can change our life or the life of someone else.

It is the story of girls and women taking their place in a world that has traditionally chosen their place for them; to “let the wolf run free.” In this story we also have the Fairy Queen who equips Isabelle for the road ahead – someone who believes in her right to choose her own destiny.  Step Sister teaches us that we can be in control of our life.

At 469 pages it is a long read but, with very short chapters often only two pages, it is easy to keep reading just one more!

Donnelly tells us in her acknowledgements that fairy tales are “entertaining, instructive and inspiring, but more importantly they are truthful” …. But ……. “Fairy Tales give it to us straight. They tell us something profound and essential l- that the woods are real, and dark, and full of wolves. That we will, at times, find ourselves hopelessly lost in them. But these tales also tell us that we are all we need, that we have all we need – guts, smarts and maybe a pocketful of breadcrumbs – to find our way home.”

A worthy read.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

Distributed by: Allen &Unwin
Released: May 2019
RRP: $19.99

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