Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: Cinder and Ella (Lemon)

AUTHOR: Melissa Lemon
PAGES:  208
ISBN: 9781599559063
PUBLISHER: Bonneville Books
SOURCE: NetGalley
GENRE: Fairy tale retelling
OVERALL RATING: Neutral opinion

SUMMARY: Teen sisters Cinder and Ella care for their family members, find love, and battle an evil prince when their father goes missing and their listless mother ignores them.

The story is unique. Cinder and Ella splits the character of Cinderella into two different girls, the only two normal sisters in an incredibly dysfunctional family. The sweet romance between Ella and Tanner kept me turning pages when Tanner is forced to retrieve Ella for the prince. I love how Prince Monticello is anything but Charming, another very cool twist on the Cinderella story.

I love Ella's character. The first to see her family for what it is, Ella is smart, courageous, and easy to like. Her sisters are mean to her and her mother completely forgets about her, and Ella sees that reality. Although, she hates her situation, Ella does not try to explain it away or excuse it; she accepts it for what it is and understands that only she can change her own future. At the same time, she still loves her mother and sisters, as evidenced in several tender moments with them throughout the book. She wants them to be safe and happy, but she understands that she cannot force them to change their behavior.

The story is short and simply told, which will appeal to reluctant middle grade readers. The virtual absence of mature content will enable me to recommend Cinder and Ella to even the most immature middle school reader.

So many unanswered questions! Cinder and Ella has so much more potential, and I feel a bit let down that characters and their personal histories are not better explored. As a former middle school English teacher, one of the first rules of writing is "Show, don't tell." Prince Monticello is evil; Lemon tells readers that several times. But WHY is he so evil? How did he get that way? What is he after? Is he evil simply for the sake of evil? Where did Prince Monticello's relationships with his own parents go wrong? How did the trees come to have a symbiotic relationship with humans? How do people find their own trees (or do they already know where they are)? Do they seek out their trees to make sure they are well-cared for? Are the trees necessarily nearby, or can a person's tree be very far away? Were the brambles strangling Ella's tree magically-induced? Why are they so difficult to cut away? Why do they keep growing back almost right away? Why is Ella's tree at the castle, anyway? What does the prince want with Ella? Why does he fake a romance with Cinder? Why, why, why?

Aside from Ella, the characters tend to be one-dimensional, defined solely by their personal "characteristic." Cinder is the virtuous and hardworking sister. Katrina is the vain one. Beatrice is the bratty baby of the family. The mother is inexplicably uninvolved. Tanner is the chivalrous-but-clumsy knight. Prince Monticello is evil incarnate for no apparent reason. Granted, traditional fairy tales often feature one-dimensional characters; however, traditional fairy tales are not 200-page novels.

The dialogue is stiff and confusing at times. Characters speak to each other too calmly, without passion, slang, dialect, or contractions.

The Prince's fate and willing exit from the castle is way too-easily resolved. The king gives an order, and the Prince obeys. He does not try to fight, come back, trick anyone, or talk his way out of it. He leaves, and that's it.

Cinder comes to Ella's wedding. Why doesn't the rest of her family go? Beatrice didn't even know Ella got married until Ella tells her, so clearly Beatrice at least was not invited.

What happened to Cassandra? I loved that horse, and she just disappears. No comment made about her once they decide to get Ella a new horse. I would have loved if the story ended with Cassandra running in a field and, like Cinder and Ella, happy to be free from the bonds of servitude.

Some small tweaks in writing style will give Cinder and Ella, which has so much more potential, the edge it needs. Since I read a NetGalley copy (months before publication), I am hopeful that Lemon and her editors invest the time to beef up the details to add some color and fragrance and, well, character to the overly-simple plot.


  • LANGUAGE: none
  • SEXUALITY: mild--chaste kissing, a drunk man makes mildly sexual jokes/roundabout threats
  • VIOLENCE: mild--two stabbings, one of which does not even draw blood; a swordfight
  • DRUGS/ ALCOHOL: mild--one minor adult character likes to get drunk
READALIKES: Anything by Shannon Hale or Gail Carson Levine. Also the Once Upon a Time series is perfect for middle school fans of fairy tale spin-offs.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: It's not out yet, so we do not have it. I do not plan to order it since there are so many better fairy tale retellings available.

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