Friday, June 21, 2019

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly
Release Date - May 14, 2019
Publisher Website - Scholastic
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages -  352 pages
My Rating - 3/5
**received from the publisher for an honest review**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe ... which is now filling with blood.

When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl. 
It's easy to root for Cinderella. We want her to break free from her abusive home and find happiness. What of her stepsisters though? The cruel and mean women who taunted Cinderella? Are they worthy of change and redemption if they want it? Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly tackles these questions and looks at the infamous stepsisters through a more feminist viewpoint that I found refreshing, even if I felt disconnected with the book at times.

Isabelle is told that women should be kind, beautiful, patient and good. They shouldn't be loud. They shouldn't want so much. She's continuously compared to Cinderella and found lacking. This, naturally, stirs jealousy within Isabelle's heart and leads her down the path we find her on. It is a much more sympathetic view on the character because she's instantly relatable. Women are always told who they should be and what they should want. Isabelle dared to want something different for herself, and dared to want to make her own way and society judged her for it. The jealousy that seeps into this story isn't just Isabelle's however. The people who are assumed to be the charmed ones have issues of their own and perhaps are just as jealous. This story looks at the pressure that is put on women and how that, sadly, often dictates the relationships we have with one another.

 The character growth that Isabelle undergoes during her journey is really what made this book work for me. We see her change and become a better person as her story progresses. The changes feel earned and authentic for the type of character she is. It is the gradual realizations and self reflection that made the character endearing to me and the author ensured it was the focus.

There is a secondary storyline that features the characters of Fate and Chance and this is where the story lost me a bit. It sometimes felt like this part of the story was meant to be a different story entirely. It didn't mesh as seamlessly with Isabelle's main storyline even with them being connected in a lot of ways. The story, for me, would have been stronger without this particular element. The scenes featuring these characters often felt disjointed and thrown in. It, for me, took me out of the story I was enjoying too many times for me to fully enjoy the book overall.

Pacing was a bit of an issue for me overall. This book feels too short for it to effectively achieve all of what it is attempting, This is most evident in the Chance/Faith sections. It causes the book to feel uneven in a lot of parts. The characters are well crafted, and the story is interesting, but I don't think it was executed to its fullest potential.

Ultimately this ended up being a bit of a mixed read for me. There were elements of the novel that I felt really worked, and other elements that I felt distracted from the story and took the reader out of what was happening. I do applaud the message of not being afraid to forge your own path regardless of what society may expect of you and recommend it for those who have loved this previous author's work.

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