by Gail Carson Levine
Harper Trophy, 1998, ISBN 0-06-440705-5
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is a rather free adaptation of Cinderella, free enough that much of the time it's hard to recognize the original fairy tale underpinning the story. It attempts to explain Ella's almost psychotically obedient behavior through most of the tale, and in the process produces an interesting and charming story.
When Ella was born, a more than usually disconnected fairy godmother gave her the "gift" of obedience, and not all the pleading and explanations of Ella's mother or other fairies could persuade her to remove this terrible gift. Over the course of her childhood, Ella gets very good at manipulating the limits of the curse, but when directly ordered to do something specific, she has to do it. This includes handing over her most treasured possessions to her hated new stepsisters after her father remarries, or hopping on one foot for an entire day, or cutting her own head off.
The foolish fairy, Lucinda, continues to pop in at inopportune moments, giving the very practical and money-minded Sir Peter (Ella's father) and his new wife Olga the "gift" of always loving each other, and very loving giant couple the "gift" of always being together, and other benignly-intended curses. Meanwhile, since Ms. Levine doesn't buy the idea of Ella and Prince Charming falling in love at first sight across a crowded dance floor, they meet for the first time at Ella's mother's funeral, and build a closer acquaintance over several years. And Ella, being a decent, kindly, friendly girl, makes other friends, at the boarding school she and her hated stepsisters are se nt to (where the elder stepsister makes a virtual slave of Ella, having accidentally discovered her secret,) and among the elves and the giants when in desperation she runs away from school, hoping that her father, who doesn't love her, but does grudgingly admire her strength of character, will help her find the fairy and get the curse lifted, or at least not send her back to school.
It's a pleasant and interesting variation on Cinderella, with a serious attempt at making the courtship between the merchant's daughter and the prince somewhat plausible.