Jade's Reviews > Just Ella

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
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's review
Aug 17, 2012

it was ok
Read on August 17, 2012

I like young adult literature. Like many people, I find that right now it is one of the genres with the most inventiveness and without the pompousness of much of the literature that deems itself "adult" and "serious."
Sometimes though, you happen on young adult books that were absolutely not intended for an older audience, that have no hidden meaning at all. Just Ella is one of those books. Writing this might make it sound like I didn't enjoy the book, when in fact I read it all in one day and had quite a good time.

Just Ella takes up where the fairytale of Cinderella ends: happily ever after, you said? Ella is an uncommonly beautiful fifteen-year-old girl when she is chosen by Prince Charming for his bride at the infamous ball where she loses her glass slipper. When the book starts, she is at the castle taking etiquette lessons in order to be perfectly fit for her perfect day. But she can't help wondering why she was chosen. Did the prince have time to fall in love with her, when all they did was dance a few dances? And if so, why is it that when they are together he cannot find anyting to tell her except that she is so beautiful? She soon realises that the reality is more complex and sinister than that.
Just Ella is a good book for children, an interesting take on the traditional fairytale passivity of princesses, but I wouldn't call it feminist. Sure, Ella has a mind of her own, but then
so have Tiana and Merida in recent Disney films. Girls and young women having minds of their own is hardly revolutionary or even militant anymore. It is true that there are a few brilliant ideas, like when Ella explains that she does not have a fairy godmother and how she got herself to the ball. But I resent the idea that Ella, because she is kind-hearted and brave, gets to be the fairest of them all while her selfish, lazy, unkind stepsisters are ugly and fat. This narrative choice is hardly feminist.
I tend to resent YA or children's literature that is too simplistic, because I feel it talks down to young people. I often had the impression that this novel did just that. One instance is the complete lack of psychological depth in any of the characters. There are Ella and a handful of other good people, and then there are the meanies. Nothing in between. Similarly, a lot of the time the book gave heavy-handed hints and told instead of showing. The premise of the story was fun enough, and that is why I bought it, but it didn't explore the issue much further than saying that life as a princess is boring because you can't do what you want. Given the subject matter, it is difficult to know how much of the cliché was intentional, but from my point of view the whole idea behind Just Ella was to put a modern spin on the old tale. Which is done alright, but in a very consensual way.

I'm giving two stars to this book because it was still a politely entertaining read. But if you want to read truly irreverent rewritings of fairytales, try Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories.

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08/17/2012 page 135

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