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High in the mountains, Zel lives with her mother, who insists they have all they need -- for they have each other. Zel's life is peaceful and protected -- until a chance encounter changes everything. When she meets a beautiful young prince at the market one day, she is profoundly moved by new emotions. But Zel's mother sees the future unfolding -- and she will do the unspeakable to prevent Zel from leaving her...

227 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published September 1, 1996

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About the author

Donna Jo Napoli

155 books1,053 followers
Donna Jo Napoli is both a linguist and a writer of children's and YA fiction. She loves to garden and bake bread, and even dreams of moving to the woods and becoming a naturalist.

At various times her house and yard have been filled with dogs, cats, birds, and rabbits. For thirteen years she had a cat named Taxi, and liked to go outside and call, "Taxi!" to make the neighbors wonder. But dear dear Taxi died in 2009.

She has five children, seven grandchildren, and currently lives outside Philadelphia. She received her BA in mathematics in 1970 and her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures in 1973, both from Harvard University, then did a postdoctoral year in Linguistics at MIT. She has since taught linguistics at Smith College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Georgetown University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Swarthmore College. It was at UM that she earned tenure (in 1981) and became a full professor (in 1984). She has held visiting positions at the University of Queensland (Australia), the University of Geneva (Switzerland), Capital Normal University of Beijing (China), the University of Newcastle (UK), the University of Venice at Ca' Foscari (Italy), and the Siena School for the Liberal Arts (Italy) as well as lectured at the University of Sydney (Australia), Macquarie University (Australia), the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), and the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa) and held a fellowship at Trinity College Dublin. In the area of linguistics she has authored, coauthored, edited, or coedited 17 books, ranging from theoretical linguistics to practical matters in language structure and use, including matters of interest to d/Deaf people. She has held grants and fellowships from numerous sources, including the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the Sloan Foundation.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 451 reviews
Profile Image for Chris.
4 reviews2 followers
August 25, 2016
A few years back, I went on a big reading binge with fairytale retellings. All were somewhat brief and young adult. But the shortest, darkest take was definitely this one. Napoli did an excellent job of really developing the limited cast of the classic Rapunzel while staying pretty true to the given motives in the original and giving us a very rich setting. I read books in a very visual way, so when I can imagine a full cinematic concept for what I'm reading, I consider the book a success.

(This review from here on contains spoilers) Now, I'm seeing people say they didn't like it because it was dark and they didn't understand the characters. And that's completely fine. It's an opinion. But, I think, contrary to what appears to be a popular opinion, the characters are made to be completely believable in the time frames given to Napoli from the original story. Yes, the Duke is obsessive with his love for Rapunzel. Why wouldn't he be? He fell in love with her in a day in the original tale, as most princes do. Yes, Rapunzel goes insane; she goes from having access to a village that enjoys her company and open air to trapped in a tree with scant visits from her mother. And Mother's role is amazing. We've been given so many possible reasons for why the witch of he original tale traps her daughter as she does, from spite to Disney's latest idea of greed for magic hair. Napoli gives us a simple and very believable and sympathizing reason: because she's a mother afraid of losing her child.

That said, it is very heavy for such a short novel, and I definitely put it on the older end of young adult. (Parents: if your teen has not yet read the Giver or the Lord of the Flies or anything by Shakespeare, you might want to hold off on this book.) In the span of two lunch breaks, I got to see vividly how two obsessive characters can destroy someone who is relatively pure in nature with manic love, because that is exactly what this story is about. The triumph of the story is when circumstances help rebuild Zel's sanity, taking her from being a child, to a tragically mad creature, to a strong woman and mother. The duke faces his own adversity for the first time, beyond that of simply not being able to find a pretty girl, and grows from it. The tragedy is entirely in Mother, who simply wanted a child too badly and went about it in the worst of ways.

Overall, I really do love this book. Rapunzel is not one of my favorite fairytales, so the fact that I got to enjoy this so much was something pleasantly new. If you want a quick read and lack the stress to be able to get into something dark and emotional, I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Katherine.
770 reviews350 followers
December 6, 2019
”We will be together.

Mother and Zel.


Synopsis: Women don’t often regret their choice of pregnancy cravings, but a young Swiss mother no doubt does when Mother Gothel comes and takes her infant to raise as her own.

All Hail the Queen of Retellings: Fairytale retellings have always been super popular, but ever since the YA boom started in the mid-to-late 2000s, there’s been a resurgence of them. While most people are quick to name authors such as Marissa Meyer as the master of fairy-tale retellings, I firmly believe that Donna Jo Napoli deserves the rightful title. Retellings are always tricky in the sense that there’s a fine balance; you must stay true to the tale your retelling, but also you have to put a new, fresh spin on it. Napoli accomplishes both objectives with such ease she makes it look effortless.

Not Your Mother’s Rapunzel: Zel is a much darker and grittier take than even the Brother’s Grimm fairytale, because while you get the gory details in Grimm’s story, you don’t get the reason why. In creating the darker backstory for the Wicked Mother and Rapunzel, she creates an entirely new perspective that will alternately make you recoil in disgust but feel sympathy for the character that deserves it the least: the Mother.

Yes, Mommy Dearest: While the main character of the story is supposed to be Zel (because duh; this is her retelling), I would strongly argue that the star of the show is Mother. Mother is first portrayed to us as a hyper-protective, smothering woman who wants Zel to never leave her for reasons we don’t fully understand. But just as Napoli is deft at striking the right balance in retelling tales, she is equally masterful at making formerly one-dimensional characters into fully fleshed out, sympathetic people. Mother has her reasons for keeping Zel locked up in the tower all alone, even if they are horrid ones. But Mother’s backstory is one that will have readers slowly comprehending her actions, and even sympathizing with them at that. Most of us know what it feels like to want something so badly it literally aches. Mother wants nothing more than a child that her barren body cannot conceive, and she’s willing to pay any price for it; even at the expense of her future child’s sanity. I never fully hated Mother, even though she should be an easy character to hate.

We’re All Mad Here: Zel is so much more than the damsel in distress here; she was a great character study. Her change in countenance and mental stability is startling to read about. Then again, if you were locked up in a tower for two years without human contact other than your mother, you’d go a little cuckoo yourself. It’s best to characterize her as Before the Tower and In the Tower. Before the Tower, Zel was extremely lively and spirited, always ready to make new friends and trusting to a fault (much like a well-known Disney Princess). And while she’s happy with her mother and their quiet life, she does wants more in life than that. In the Tower, she is broken down to a shell of her former self, prone to babbling, self-harm, and questions about the Mother she really knows. Her naiveté and innocence at her situation, and the heartbreaking realization of Mother’s true intentions, make her all the more devastating of a character.

Here Comes the Smolder: If there’s one weak spot in this seemingly flawless novel, it’s Count Konrad. He lacks the charm that Flynn Rider so easily wields and is borderline stalkerish. Smitten with charming Zel the moment he sees her tending to his horse and requesting a goose egg, his only function is to ride through the countryside looking for her with the barest details known to him. That, and eat enough Rapunzel lettuce to feed Bugs Bunny for the next century. Seriously, I thought the dude was going to turn into a head of lettuce there for a minute. As much as you want them to finally find each other so he can shut the hell up about her, it’s hard to really ship them as a couple. I think he was more in love with the idea of Rapunzel and his obsession with her rather than Rapunzel herself, but that’s just my take on it. It’s a very slight blemish in an otherwise flawless novel.
This is my favorite Donna Jo Napoli retelling for a reason. She perfectly captures the true essence of the story with a dark and sinister twist to things. And yet she manages to make formerly unsympathetic, heartless characters at least have some semblance of a soul, and fleshes out the rest of her cast to be so lifelike that it almost seems like they’re standing right beside you. While this retelling is a much darker take on the seemingly innocent Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Napoli shows with her haunting yet starkly beautiful writing how far people are willing to go to get the things they want, and the devastating consequences that are sure to follow.
Profile Image for Carrie.
315 reviews5 followers
February 24, 2008
This story is deep and melancholy and left me feeling depressed. Some graphic scenes are rather disturbing, and the sex scene kind of ruined it for me (bumped the book into a more mature category than is appropriate for its audience).
Profile Image for Sara Saif.
543 reviews224 followers
September 8, 2019
Zel was a grim and yet interesting take on Rapunzel. It was a barely 300 page book but it packed a lot and ended in a satisfying way. I liked the way Mother was portrayed and how realistic Rapunzel's mental state was written. I found three things weird though: Konrad's obsession, which started immediately and should have had a sound reason, Rapunzel's hair (ironic, I know), I think it couldn't have taxed Mother much to use her arts for getting to and from the tower once each day. Rapunzel's hair growth made no sense, and third, the goose. Wtf even was with that goose?
Please read the book, it was fascinating.
Profile Image for Lara.
66 reviews10 followers
March 8, 2009
Plot summary: Zel is a joyous, innocent girl on the cusp of womanhood. She has grown up on a peaceful and beautiful Swiss farm with just one person for companionship: Mother. More than anything, Zel wishes she could talk to animals and understand them. Mother has a gift of her own – a way with plants. She can manipulate them to serve her purposes, growing trees and shrinking vines, raising all sorts of vegetables and fruits. It turns out that Mother is a barren witch who traded her soul for a child when she could not bear her own.

Zel looks forward to their twice-yearly visits to the town market, where she can interact with all sorts of people. Mother looks forward to the time when Zel will have to make the choice between leaving the farm to start her own family, or staying with Mother forever. Mother could not bear it if Zel were to leave the farm, and pours her heart into making Zel happy. On their latest visit to the market, however, Zel encounters a young man, Konrad. Konrad sees Zel's sweet way with animals and her unusual manners, and is enchanted with her. When Zel calms Konrad's horse while the blacksmith removes a tick from the horse's ear, Konrad asks how he can repay her. Having no desire for money, Zel thinks of a solitary goose at the farm – she sits on a nest of rocks because she cannot have her own goslings. Zel asks for a goose egg, hoping to persuade the goose it is her own egg. Konrad is amazed at the request but takes the dark-eyed girl seriously and begins hunting for a goose egg.

As soon as Mother realizes Zel's thoughts have turned to a certain young man and the unsure way he made her feel, she acts to separate the two before they have a chance to meet again. Spiriting Zel high up into disused tower, Mother feeds Zel special foods to make her hair grow long. At first Mother reaches the tower by making a tree next to it grow and shrink, but eventually Mother can climb up by Zel's hair. Konrad, meanwhile, has been hunting for Zel for two years, obsessed with her and mystified by her disappearance. Zel, locked in her tower prison, starts to lose her mind, keeping secrets from Mother and trying to make friends with the squirrel in the tree and a pigeon that roosts above her cramped quarters. When Konrad finally finds the tower and watches Mother ascend using the golden braids, Konrad is able to use the same trick to get up, as Zel doesn't even realize it is him. When Mother discovers that Konrad has found Zel, she breaks down completely and uses the forest to transport Zel, now pregnant, far away where Konrad has almost no hope of ever finding her again. Mother throws Konrad out the window of the tower but at the last moment shrubs around the base of the tower spring up and cushion his fall, though they scratch out his eyes. Her strength gone, Mother dies. Zel is taken in by villagers who find her at the end of her long strange journey and starts a new life in a new country. Konrad resumes his search, even blind, in this love story for the ages.

Comments: Napoli has done a fantastic job of re-writing the Rapunzel fairy tale. Zel is so full of life and joy in small everyday things, it is tragic to see the way Mother tries to limit her enthusiasm. It is also distressing to read about how much Mother simply wants Zel to love her and to be happy with the quiet country life they have carved out for themselves, but by loving Zel too much she turns Zel against herself. Napoli has written the book from the three different viewpoints of Zel, Mother and Konrad. As Mother's reasoning becomes more flawed and distressed, Zel starts to lose her own mind, cooped up in the tower with only a hour long visit from Mother each day. Konrad, caught up in his obsessive quest to find the beautiful and unique Zel, changes from being a boy to emerging as a man as his search becomes more arduous.

Napoli did a great job of handling the extreme youth of Zel and Konrad. In this type of fairy tale, marriage at a younger age than is now commonly accepted was not unusual. Without remarking on explicit details, Napoli crafts a love story that will appeal to readers of many ages. I will be looking for more of Napoli's revised fairytales in the future.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Natalie.
736 reviews18 followers
August 2, 2013
The oldest versions of fairy tales tend to be horrifying for those of us who were raised on Walt Disney's magic. I love the sweet happily ever after tales Disney tells, but the original tales are also very appealing. One fairy tale that was always disturbing to me is the story Rapunzel. The idea that a mother (adopted or otherwise) would lock her child in a tower for years is always horrifying. "Zel" does an excellent job showing the love then betrayal that kind of relationship would have to have. This book is filled with both beauty and horror, love and hate. The sweet innocence and love between Zel and her prince is very beautiful. The ugliness that comes with Mother's obsessive love made me shiver. This book is not for children. It is one I would recommend for teens (there is a sex scene as is necessary to stay true to the original tale. It is implied only and comes with vows of life-long devotion). This is much to heavy a book for my 10-year-old, but I think a 14-year-old would get a lot out of it. I highly recommend this book for that older audience, but I will add a warning that it includes many of the darker details that the Grimm Brothers included in their stories. It is also full of true to history details that are weaved seamlessly into the story. The fact that it doesn't go overboard on the horror, it is subtly set in a very believable 1500's Europe, and that it also includes a lot of sweet joy and love makes this a 5 star book for me.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
34 reviews1 follower
May 31, 2010
This is a story about Repunzel. I think it is a lot like the "original" version, except for the ending. Repunzel is named after the lettuce for which her birth mother traded her. The mother who raised her was a barren woman who wanted a child more than anything. She tricked her neighbors into giving her a child through sorcery she received by trading her soul to the devil. With this sorcery, she also promised to convince Zel to sell her soul for "gifts" as well. The first time Zel meets a boy, her mother locks her in a tower to prevent them from ever meeting again. She convinces Zel it is for her own protection from an enemy. Zel stays in the tower for two years and begins to go crazy. The boy she met searches for and finally finds the tower. He comes in and they sleep together. Zel's mom can see she is pregnant. She rips off Zel's braids and forces her miles and miles away through the branches of trees. When her lover returns to free her, he confronts her mother. She pushes him from the window, using her last ounce of strength to catch him with briars, poking his eyes out. Zel ends up in a desert somewhere with strange people. Her lover continues searching for her and she bares twins. They finally meet again and her tears cure his blindness.
This story was so strange. At first, I thought it was really childish. I didn't like how they author constantly switched veiwpoints, though it did create an advantage for telling the story. When Zel started going crazy in the tower, it got really messed up. I was surprised when they slept together. Butr apparently that is how the story goes originally (I've never read it). Anyways, I wouldn't really encourage young adults to read this book. It's kind of dark with no moral ending.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Amalie .
768 reviews219 followers
June 30, 2013
Zel is a story/a retelling of Rapunzel and it's really good. I'd say it's is one of the finest novels I have read but since I'm yet to do a lot of retellings, I can't say it but Donna Jo Napoli's retelling sounds just right.

It's set in the Swiss Alp and is told by 3 characters: Zel (Rapunzel), her mother, and Konrad (The young Count). This is about a mother who loves her daughter so much that she can't bear the thought of losing her to anyone or anything and this mother is a witch.

Since many of the retellings out there are for young-adults, don't think this is a "kid's book". I would recommend this book to anyone from age 15 up. It's a darker book for kids and it has some adult situations (sex, nudity, madness, menstruation - nicely written) s my opinion, it is strong in nature for younger teenagers.

Profile Image for Kim.
161 reviews7 followers
December 6, 2008
I don't know how Napoli can take such a familiar tale (Rapunzel) and turn it into a book I end up staying all night to read because I can't put it down!!! She not only weaves it into a realistic setting (16th century Switzerland), but she handles all sorts of issues in depth - the danger of human longing, the psychological effects of imprisonment, the joy of young love, etc. It also kindly shares alternative perspectives of it all. Haunting and breathtaking, this psychological masterpiece is a MUST read.
Profile Image for nicole.
1,915 reviews69 followers
March 10, 2009
what i wrote for class

I think it's a very dark tale on what it means to be an adolescent, a story of the deepest betrayal. I found it far creepier than Coraline, as Zel's mother turns into the other mother before her very eyes without any warning. I know we've spoken about absentee parents in previous weeks, but I can't quite recall if I've been in a thread that touched on bad parenting. It was difficult to read their interactions once Zel was in the tower, to realize that the mother was so intent on giving her daughter what she thought she should have that she missed exactly what was needed. And the small sadist in me is glad that it's not a perfectly happy ending, that until the last paragraph the two have to overcome all sorts of trials to reach everlasting love.

At the half-way point, about when Zel gets locked into the tower, I flipped to the back and realized this book had been in the Main Library's juvenile section. While the writing is simple and easy to follow, I found the themes to be so incredible for such younger readers. It had a higher check-out rate than I would have though, considering where it had been shelved, but then again Donna Jo Napoli has a wealth of solid books to her name. I would use this as a particular example in any argument for the definitite need of a YA section for YA readers.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
February 25, 2013
I picked this up because it was on the "recommended" list at the back of one of Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow's anthologies - and I'm very glad I did!
It's a retelling of the story of Rapunzel, set in the 1500's in Switzerland. While Napoli does not take out the more fantastic/magical elements of the story, she very much emphasizes the psychological elements of the story: the witch who demands a baby girl in return for the theft of her lettuce is not simply evil, but clings to her "adopted" daughter, Rapunzel, with a fierce and possessive "love," which over the years grows more and more obsessively twisted, till it leads to her imprisoning her in an isolated tower, with terrible consequences for Zel's sanity... The dynamic, as it is portrayed, is far too close to the reality of how many parents cling to their children (finding it hard to let them grow up, become independent, and find love on their own) to be comfortable reading. Although the book was marketed toward young teens, I found it to be one of the most disturbing (but also most romantic!) works I've read in quite a while.
Highly recommended for fans of Patricia McKillip.
Profile Image for ✧nicole✧.
49 reviews18 followers
March 15, 2017
Eh, I mean this is basically the re-telling of the classic fairytale, Rapunzel. That's all it was really. I didn't go into this book with high expectations so I wasn't really disappointed. Maybe fairy tales just aren't my thing I don't know. I mean I did like this book it certainly was good and a captivating story, but it just kind of seemed to drag on.

Like Konrad sets out to find Rapunzel for days. Comes back and is unsuccessful. Rapunzel goes crazy, talks to animals, and describes her thoughts of slicing herself open with a sharp stone. Konrad goes again and tries to find her. Asks people if they know her. AND THEN THIS REPEATS LIKE FOUR MORE TIMES OVER THE COURSE OF ABOUT 7 YEARS (?)
I mean this book certainly is good and a great story, I just gave it the rating I did because of the annoying style of writing and how it really dragged on in the end. Things that I did like about this book were the interesting/unique characters and how each chapter was told in a different character's point of view. Overall a 3 maybe 3.5 star book.
Profile Image for Sarah TheAromaofBooks.
634 reviews4 followers
July 20, 2018
This retelling of Rapunzel was probably one of the strangest, creepiest, most bizarre fairy tale retellings I have found in a long time. 1/5 for me – I don’t like books that leave me feeling as though I’ve wasted my time and will probably have weird dreams. Honestly, this whole book read like a weird dream.

3 reviews
February 3, 2014
Let me sum this book up in one word:


My 14-year-old sister loves fairy tales, so I buy her pretty much every fairy tale book I can get my hands on. I found Zel as well as one of Napoli's other books, Beast, at a secondhand store and let me just say that I am glad I didn't pay full price for either of them.

My sister tried to read Zel several times and ended up skimming it. She told me to sell it back and that she wanted to like it, but the writing was weird. This should have deterred me. Unfortunately it did not. Curious, I skimmed through myself.

On just a cursory reading, several things come to mind:

The Story: I'm going to give Napoli props for sticking to the original fairy tale's general outline: Rapunzel is one of my favorite Grimm's tales. However, these fairy tales are short, and Napoli added little of her own to the tale. It could have been much shorter.

The Writing: BORING. It meandered. It was the same thing over and over. I didnt like the "symbolism" or "drama" or "introspection". It didnt work. The writing was so bad I wouldnt want to read anything else by her.

The Goose: What is with the goose? Seriously. I guess it was supposed to be symbolic but it just came across as random.

The Prince: I skipped most (if not all) of his chapters. He was boring to read about. As a character he was (of course) boring, strange (and not in a good way), and extremely creepy (in a VERY bad way). You're supposed to be rooting for him to get the girl but to be honest I thought she was safer in the tower. This guy should never be allowed around children.

Mother: okay, I can deal with the obsessive-compulsive bipolar schizo mom deal. The concept worked. But the way Napoli writes her, her literal every thought is Zel. Her chapters are all exactly the same. I hope Zel doesnt hate me, she's so nice and pretty, what is she thinking, does she miss me...blah blah blah EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER.

Zel: honestly she's the only one I moderately liked. I didnt find her likeable per se (especially with the animal thing - I wasnt a fan of that random plot development). She was an innocent, naive, sweet-nautred child, and I found it very believable that she started to go crazy in her imprisonment. However: I find it very unbelievable that a 12-year-old girl would walk around naked, crazy or not. At that age, even if you dont have self-esteem issues, you feel too old to be doing it because that's what you did as a toddler, and she wasnt quite old enough to start exploring her sexuality - at that age, she might not even be PMS-ing yet.

While we're talking about Zel's age....

In the original Grimm's tale, Rapunzel is 12 when she is locked in the tower, and roundabout 2 years later the prince comes to her. So she's around 14, possibly even 15 (the version I have says "about 2 years later", leaving some room for ambiguity). The prince visits once, promises to free her, comes back only to find her gone...yada yada yada....searches 2 years for her, and finds her....with twins. Now, this seems a little odd now, especially when you take into account that girls used to start PMS a little later than is common now, but in this sort of world it was common for girls to marry soon after they became women, and most fairy tale princesses are 14-16. So this is fine.

But (from my understanding, I dont remember well) Zel is younger than this. From my memory, Zel is 12. Let's add in her behavior: Zel is childish, due to mother's influence. Mother wants her to stay a child. Zel acts like a child. I'd say maybe a 10 year old child. At this mental stage, Zel is not a sexual creature. If approached in this manner, Zel would be confused and I doubt she'd really understand or enjoy it. This wouldnt be so bad if the prince was a young, inexperienced and kinda stupid preteen boy - but the prince is 16. I have two brothers: at this age, they know enough about sex to know better. This girl is 12. How developed could se possibly be? Who looks at that and thinks "hey, I want some of that"? Granted, he's a 16 year old boy, so he'd hit pretty much anything. But he's a prince: he's got more responsibility on his shoulders than other boys. Napoli makes it a point to say that he's a good prince: responsible, intelligent, clever, kind....therefore, HE SHOULD KNOW BETTER.

So, instead of coming off as innocent first love, the sex scene came across as rape-y. The prince felt like a pedophile. When he followed her, I felt like he was obssessive, and she didn't know better. I felt like he was taking advantage of Zel's madness and innocence, in every scene with the two of them. It would be different if it was supposed to be strange, but you were supposed to want them to get together, root for the love between them....there was no love. He's a pedophile, she's a crazy child, and she thinks she loves him because he saves her.

So, all in all: random, weird, choppy writing, strange (in a bad way), pedophile prince....I'd give it negative stars. Even if you can get past the romance, the writing ruins it.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,342 reviews1,634 followers
December 16, 2015
This started out badly, and I only stuck with it past the first few pages because it is so short. I know that it is YA, or supposed to be, but this book has an identity crisis.

The writing feels incredibly juvenile, simplistic to the point of feeling like it was written by a teen rather than just for teens. (This is my first Napoli book, but I almost choked on my drink when I saw that Napoli "teaches linguistics" according to the blurb at the back of the book.) The sentences are like something I'd expect to see in a chapter-book for advanced 3rd graders.

Meanwhile, the story is dark and depressing, with mature themes that are shown but not really shown, only hinted at except when they're blatant, but are never really resolved. And then there's a happy ending. It's like Napoli thought that she'd write something dark and gritty and sinister and cruel... and then Disneyfied it.

The characters were pretty two dimensional, I must say. I could understand Mother's desire to have children when she could not. But honestly, I don't really get anything else after that when it comes to her. She entered into an arrangement out of pure selfishness, and in the bargain she would try to get Zel to do the same. Toward that goal she secluded her child from the world, and then imprisoned her. Because that will NEVER cause resentment and hatred. I know that this is a retelling of a fairy-tale, so it's not like the ending can be changed, but in an effort to humanize the "evil witch" that locked Rapunzel in the tower, Napoli only succeeded in making her unbelieveable and confusing. If she'd wanted Zel to stay with her out of love and fear, even selfishness, I could understand that. But the reason that Napoli laid out made no sense to me.

Konrad could have been interesting, but I don't really get his love for Zel. They met one time, he acted like a pompous rich kid, and because she asked him for a goose egg rather than something practical, he fell for her and committed to two years of fruitless searching for her for nothing more than that, foregoing marriage arrangements that would garner power and wealth and status. All the while ordering people around and demanding they cater to his crazy whims. And his love is so strong that he'd go to the ends of the earth for her. After one meeting. At 15. Right.

Zel herself was both the most interesting at times and the most two dimensional at times. She starts the story as a wide-eyed innocent girl, who just exists in this little bubble with her mother. She doesn't question why she's not allowed to socialize with other kids, she doesn't argue at the unreasonable behavior of her mother who gets all shifty eyed whenever anyone at all talks to Zel on anything deeper than a "Would you like to try this peach?" level, she doesn't act like she's 13 at all, except in her desire for a husband and family, which probably all 13 year olds fantasize about. But then fast forward to Two-Year-Tower Zel, and she's spiralling into depression, delusions, suicidal thoughts, and madness. This was the best part of the book to me, and the reason why it got 2 stars instead of 1. Zel still wanted to love her mother and trust in her the way that she'd trusted her all her life, but she couldn't really do it, and the conflict in herself was making her crazy.

Anyway... I can't really recommend this one. I'd expected better from it. Rats. =\
Profile Image for Heidi Stewart.
50 reviews1 follower
October 16, 2016
I've been wondering lately if fairy tale retellings just aren't for me. As much as I liked this book, it didn't captivate me in the way I felt it should, and I can find no fault in the novel to suggest why. So I can only assume in some way this story just wasn't for me. And then I think of how much I love "Ella Enchanted" ... maybe I just need the right kind of retelling?

Zel is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale and follows the dark Brother's Grimm version - the one where the prince sleeps with Rapunzel and when the Mother finds out she gouges out the prince's eyes and banishes Rapunzel to wonder the desert and birth her children alone, that version.

Some people aren't going to like this book because of the darker material, but I believe Napoli handles the material well. She doesn't shy away from the fact that someone locked up in a tower for years with no one for company would slowly go insane. She doesn't brush aside that having hair that long and having someone climb it would cause excruciating pain.

What this book does well is provide insight into each character - their thoughts, their emotions, their motivations for doing things. Why would anyone trade their child for handfuls of lettuce? Why is Rapunzel locked in the tower? Why doesn't she try to leave? And how does the prince become so infatuated with her? I appreciated these clarifications on the original tale, I enjoyed having such well-rounded characters, and liked that the darker elements of the story were given and explored and not sugar coated or brushed aside.

The novel switches back and forth between three points of view - the Mother, Zel, and the prince. Normally, I don't like novels that switch perspective between characters because it usually isn't done well and I end up confused. But I experienced no such confusion with this novel.

So, why three stars if I can point out so many good things? It's hard to explain ... I didn't feel absorbed into the story. I wasn't enchanted by it. I liked it. It's a good story. It just didn't seem to have whatever I need to say that I really like a story or that it was fantastic.

I would definitely recommend picking up Zel if you like the story of Rapunzel and are looking for retellings on it, especially if you don't mind the darker stuff. As a retelling, the novel does what it does well and is very good in that aspect. If you are not looking for a retelling specifically, and just want a good book to curl up with and get sucked into, this novel might not be what you are looking for.

This and other reviews at heidisgoodreads.blogspot.com
Profile Image for Juushika.
1,553 reviews163 followers
November 2, 2013
Young Zel and her mother live in near isolation far from the village--but when they go into town for market, Zel encounters a young man who her mother feels they must protect themselves against. Zel is a dark, delicate retelling of Rapunzel. Napoli's voice is stylistic and poetic--it's unusual, even offputting, and it fails to be a convincing voice because it stays static even when the narrative headhops into first person, but the language is terse, beautiful, and evocative; this is a book for reading between the lines. The story doesn't stray far from the tale of Rapunzel as we know it, except that it delves painfully deep into emotional motivation and response. This is at odds with a sense of predestination that runs through the text: characters stick to the Rapunzel script as though following it rather than creating it, and it undermines their decisiveness. These flaws are visible but can't overwhelm the book's sparse, powerful, dark beauty; Zel has deceptive weight and it lingers in the mind. I recommend it, and will read more from Napoli some day.
Profile Image for Jerome Otte.
1,747 reviews
May 9, 2018
A dark, well-written retelling.

The story doesn’t have much humor or humanity to it, but the relationship between Rapunzel and her mother is clearer and the backstories to many of the original tale’s elements are good.

The style is somewhat poetic, and this can get a little annoying at times. You also get to know the mother character more than Zel or Konrad. Still, a rich, delicate work overall.
Profile Image for Judith.
Author 1 book41 followers
February 19, 2008
Wonderful retelling of Rapunzel from one of my favourite writers, like, evah! The role of the witch-mother figure in Napoli's fairy tale retellings is always fascinating and revealing. In Zel, the question of mother love and guilt is at the heart of the drama, and I also love how Napoli explores the psychological effects of imprisonment on Rapunzel.
Profile Image for Alia.
115 reviews11 followers
March 5, 2017
One of my favorite books ever. Great storytelling.
Profile Image for Audrey (Warped Shelves).
702 reviews38 followers
April 23, 2020
4.25 stars

Zel is a totally enchanting retelling of Rapunzel! Donna Jo Napoli's prose is gorgeous, fluid, engrossing; I was totally rapt by her masterful storytelling. I really liked this version of the classic fairy tale--the dynamics between characters was superb and flowed perfectly. After going back and reading the Brothers Grimm's tale, it's clear that with Zel, the author expounded upon the original perfectly; she totally nailed the characters as well as the plot.

I was a little let down with the story because of a review I had read which led me to believe that Zel would be much darker than it really was, but nevertheless I really enjoyed the book.

I intend to read more books by Napoli just for her writing style, regardless of the plot of the stories.

POPSUGAR 2020 Reading Challenge: (Advanced) A book published in the 20th century
Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge: a book related to witches
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,410 reviews34 followers
February 9, 2017
A Rapunzel tale, set in the Swiss Alps, that fell flat for me. Author Napoli is good at retelling fairy tales, but the source material can only go so far, even when it is reimagined. While I did like that the story came from three perspectives- Zel, her mother and Konrad the Count- Zel seemed like a dishrag of a character and I didn't see why her mother and Konrad were so enamored of her. Never a fan of insta-love, Konrad's obsessive pursuit of Zel was off putting, and Zel seemed like a simpleminded fool who willingly went into the tower. While there were some flashes of depth in the story, as a whole I did not enjoy this book.
Profile Image for Mary Bronson.
1,454 reviews83 followers
August 25, 2018
This was an okay book. It was hard to get into the book. I liked the idea of it having three different POV. From Zel, Her Mother, and Konrad. I think this is a very close Rapunzel retelling. One of the things I was annoyed was the romance between Zel and Konrad. They first met when Zel was 13 and Konrad 16 and Konrad "fell in love" the first moment he met her. Plus towards the end of the book I did not like how Zel's personality changed dramatically. Plus I was very annoyed by the mother.
Profile Image for Abby Rose.
502 reviews40 followers
February 19, 2019
So I read this a few years ago and didn't care for it -- re-reading it now, I like it a WHOLE lot better. It's not my favorite Donna Jo Napoli book (Dark Shimmer holds that place for its sheer literary beauty), but it's waaaaaaaay better than I gave it credit for.

It has a lot of creative elements and twists I didn't pick up on during earlier readings of the text. Really good.
December 27, 2021
This book started out great but quickly fell into subjects definitely not appropriate for anyone under the age of 16. I do not recommend this book.
25 reviews
March 18, 2010
When I began reading Zel I was not reading it within the mindset that it was a "reworked" fairy tale, and although, I recall at some point hearing that Zel was Rapunzel, I had forgotten. It was quite comical to realize my own shock as I came upon a scene in the book where all of the pieces fit together and I realized I was reading Rapunzel! I was and still am surprised at the surprisingly long time it took for me to realize what I had been reading, and yet it was also satisfying to read for a while without having any expectations. Either way, Napoli is masterful at the incredible way she seems to weave in all of the feminist pieces Crew depicts. I must admit, I did not pick up on these specifics as I read. I am finding that I enjoy being able to read a bit ignorantly, read the critiques and expansions of the writers' methods, and then revisit each story with a newer and more in-depth perspective. I like to take it in in layers...it seems to make the tales stay on the reading palate longer...and taste better! (Speaking of taste, I also found myself salivating with each new mention of the "special lettuce." After reading of Konrad's crazing for Rapunzel, I finally put my book down and made myself a salad. If anything, I can thank Napoli for an added daily dose of leafy greens that taste better than they ever have before!)

It was interesting to delve right in to Napoli’s book. Her writing is extremely interesting and different. The way she switched narration between characters exudes three distinct personalities which I enjoyed. Her ability to switch off in and among their points-of-view and to connect the story with such detail was masterfully done. The overlapping of events from one scene and character to the next was particularly clever...I think of the goose flying up and over both Konrad as well as Zel in the ending pages. To be honest, some of the details that amazed me were the unpleasant unmentionables that seem to often go undocumented in other fairy tales.

The amount of research and detail that Napoli applied to the book added so much flavor and scenery. The skill with which Napoli paints the dramatic decline in beauty from the gorgeous descriptions of Zel and her mother and their relationship to the dark and ugly mess that crumbles into a heap of destruction towards the wrapping of the scenes is inspiring. Yet, within that decline that works itself out so masterfully, Napoli uses her craft of writing to slide in more foreshadow and just enough intrigue to plant some seeds of discord within the reader. As I have had some time to let Zel sink into me, I have decided that the overall tone of this book left me feeling unresolved in spite of the happy ending. The battle that raged in the mind of Zel’s mother disturbs me. There was a happy ending, but the road to getting there, not unlike the reflections fantasy mirrors of true life, was painful. I felt worn out as the story ended. It was not like the worn out feeling from finishing a 700 and some odd page JK Rowling fantasy. In spite of the disasters that line the pages of Harry Potter’s life, one finishes those novels with a sense of accomplishment and hope and of a somewhat completed quest having been achieved. With Napoli’s Zel, as happy as the ending turns out, there is a sad, dark cloud that did not seem to part from me when the last page was turned.
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