by Gail Carson Levine
Unconditional Recommendation: In this fairytale retelling, Ella, cursed by a fairy to obey every command, sets out to break her curse and protect those she loves.
Awards: Newbery Honor (1998), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature (1999), Grand Canyon Reader Award for Teen Book (1999), Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award for Grade 6-9 (2000), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award (1999)
I have loved Ella Enchanted from the first time I read it as a kid. As a retelling of Cinderella, the story was familiar and satisfying, yet with Levine’s interesting portrayal it was also unique and exciting. And Ella’s journey and victory has always filled my heart with joy. I hope you give this book a try and love the characters and the experience as much as I do.
At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella’s life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse.
Many themes: the search for freedom, struggling to live despite affliction and disheartening circumstances, sacrificial love and more.
I think we as humans will always be moved by great acts of courage or defiance motivated by love. Ella takes a stand against her curse, against what has plagued her, endangered her, and made her into an unwilling victim all her life as well as the demanding voices of her enemies in order to do, not what is right for her, but what is right for whom she loves. She sacrifices what she wants for the good of who she loves and it is beautiful and pulls the heartstrings in the best way—a way that feels like victory, like you won the battle too.
I’ve reread Ella Enchanted more times that I can remember and each time I’ve been impressed with Levine’s skill and economy of words. The words are to the point and effectively make their point. It’s easy to read and never weighed down by cumbersome descriptions or unnecessary bits.
Ella is funny, spunky and struggles under the burden of her curse of obedience. She’s relatable in so many ways—think of areas of life where you’re forced to obey whether you like it or not, whether it’s good for you or not; the yearning to be free; doing what you can with what you have; dealing with people out to take advantage of you; finding and treasuring the good things in your life. Ella is very real, very human and she’s fun to read about because she takes her life into her own hands to try and free herself and displays great courage and endurance along the way.
I also absolutely love Mandy, the household cook and Ella’s fairy godmother. She is darling and everyone’s favorite grandmother. The scenes between her and Ella are all fun because each has just the right amount of spunk and love to keep the other on their toes and feeling loved.
The Cinderella parts of the story aren’t obvious until near the end when elements like magical clothing and coaches and balls come into the story.
The romance—Ella’s relationship with the prince, Char—is based on mutual respect and friendship before turning into love. It’s balanced, good, and wonderful!
Since this book is a favorite from childhood, of course it has stuck with me. It’s one of the books that made me fall in love with fantasy, fairytale retellings, and reading in general. It has everything a good book should and is a perfect middle grade read.
After the engrossing build up to the climax of the book, it is a happy ending with everything righted.
The story contains fairies, fairy godmothers, magic, fairy gifts (magical objects), magical curses, ogres, elves, gnomes, and giants.
In 2006, Levine wrote Fairest, a retelling of the story of Snow White, set in the same world and in 2018, Levine wrote Ogre Enchanted, a prequel to Ella Enchanted. It’s been too long since I’ve read Fairest so I can’t attest to that one but I have more recently read Ogre Enchanted and it didn’t capture my heart or shine as brightly as Ella Enchanted.
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