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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Margaret Peterson Haddix's _Just Ella_

Haddix, Margaret Peterson  (1999) Just Ella  New York: Aladdin

Okay, so the original story of Cinderella has been told and retold in pretty much any setting and variation you can think of.  And even though Margaret Peterson Haddix (author of Running out of Time and about a hundred other good books) starts her novel at the end of the story and presents a Princess Ella who has to choose between life as the royal wife of Prince Charming and a more ordinary life with a tutor who wants to help refugees of the most recent war the kingdom has had with its neighbors -- it still sounds like a familiar love triangle thing (Twilight anyone).  But don't dismiss this novel quite so quickly. 

What makes it good is a combination of Ella's interesting voice and her interesting personality.  Ella has just been handed her dream -- a life of phenomenal luxury after more than her share of abuse and poverty-- but she starts to realize that a life of wealth has its own constraints.  She finds she is not really free to do what she wants, but rather that the expectations upon her as princess and upon the noble women of her culture in general leave her very little choice in things.  When her pompous and rotund tutor has a heart attack and is replaced by his idealistic son, she starts to wonder what her life is for.  And that is what makes this book great.  It isn't about a helpless and confused girl choosing between two hunky suitors -- it is the story of a thoughtful and reflective girl making a deliberate choice about her life. it's good.

This is a good one for girls from fifth grade on up.  It fits best with a literature class -- although it gives a stereotypical picture of medieval life, it clearly is not intended to offer any historical insights.  Boys might like it if they read it, but the cover is going to make it a pretty hard sell.     

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