Margaret Peterson Haddix clearly wants to impress young girls with a sense of what really matters in relationships in her version of “happily ever after”. Unfortunately, her message gets lost in this poorly constructed novel. (Cinder) Ella finds Prince Charming irresistible, until she arrives at the castle. Smothered by protocol and superficiality, Ella discovers that love cannot survive if physical attraction is the only basis of a commitment. She tries to break off the engagement, but the royal family will not permit such an embarrassing rejection to be made public. Ella’s resourcefulness saves her in the end, but not before her lack of personal virtue becomes evident.
Unlike characters in Haddix’s other books, all personages in this fable are caricatures. Prince Charming is exceptionally handsome and unbelievably dumb. He is incapable of any independent thought and does not realize that he is constantly manipulated by the castle staff. Ella, however, does not represent a model heroine either. She herself is unsurpassed in beauty, on the outside. Haddix seems to have forgotten, though, that the Cinderella of the fairy tale has beauty that originates on the inside. In spite of abuse from her stepmother and stepsisters, Cinderella is neither bitter nor insubordinate. Ella, on the other hand, resents her oppressors and finds satisfaction in their humiliation. Ella’s lack of refinement and self-righteousness do not only seem out of place in this classic fairy tale. They make the reader wonder how any woman who is so full of rancor could possibly maintain an attractive countenance. For young teenage girls who enjoy love stories, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth Speare has a similar theme and a more commendable heroine.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.