This makes book number two for the year so far. I’m going to hit it hard until I reach about halfway in my yearly book count, then we’ll slow down and get more into Hans Christian Andersen and other fun things.
If you’ve ever read Ella Enchanted this book takes place in the same universe. Ella and Lucinda and both mentioned in this book. Gail rewrites traditional fairy tales with her own twist on them. This book, if you haven’t figured it out already, is her retelling of Snow White, but in this tale Snow White isn’t as beautiful as we would expect her to be.
In a kingdom where everyone sings one adopted girl doesn’t fit in. Oh, her voice is beautiful of course and she can sing pretty much anything, but she doesn’t look like everyone else. Her skin is lighter. She’s tall. She’s big-boned. Her hair is a strange dark color. Everyone mistakes it for black, but a gnome tells her its htun. Htun is a color only gnomes can see. The girl, Ada, lives at an inn. Her adopted parents own the inn and Ada helps out with the chores of the inn. She was found in a room after a woman had checked out and left her there. Her blanket was velvet and trimmed with gold. They suspect she is highborn, but no one can be certain. When Ada befriends a duchess her life changes.
She asks a gnome, a frequent visitor to the inn, what her future will be, as gnomes can see bits of the future. He tells her that they will meet again, but it will be in Gnome Caverns and she will be in danger. Ada cannot imagine this, but life changes quickly. She accompanies the duchess to the wedding of the king because the duchess has no one else to go with her. There the new queen, Ivi, quickly takes a liking to her, but the queen has an ulterior motive. She is from a place where people do not sing, they dance; she is uncomfortable singing in front of people and wishes that Ada would sing for her. It’s a mess of Ashley Simpson proportions.
Ada stays on as the queen’s lady in waiting. She befriends the prince who actually takes a liking to her, but she Ada is soon accused of being something that nobody likes. The queen has been using her, but the queen has also been used by a strange force, a mirror. The queen is upsetting the people while the king lies sick in bed. Ada must flee for her life. A man is ordered to kill her, but he resists. Ada finds herself in Gnome Caverns just as the gnome predicted, but she is not out of danger yet. A gnome brings human food to her, including an apple, which does terrible things to Ada.
In the end Ada learns that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
What I liked
I’ve read Ella Enchanted several times and I liked it. I also liked this book. I think it’s interesting to see what other people do with traditional fairy tales. Maybe Snow White really wasn’t as beautiful as everyone said. Maybe the queen wasn’t entirely evil. Maybe the prince wasn’t as awesome or as hot as everyone says he was. They’re fairy tales and as such there are multiple versions of each. I think Gail is quite clever for thinking up some of the things she thinks up. I couldn’t even begin to understand the language she made up in this book. There are a few different languages that Gail hints at in the book. It’s nothing of Tolkien proportions, but perhaps Gail took a cue from good old J.R.R. and made up a bit of her own languages.
I liked that Ada realized that different people liked different things. She had her own worth even if she didn’t feel she looked like everyone else. Ada is very talented and a good person. She had to go through some difficult trials to find out who she really was. I’m glad she finally came to realize that just because she didn’t fit into conventional beauty standards it didn’t mean she was worthless. Her unique look and personality make her who she is. Even Ivi realized that she didn’t have to be the conventional picture of beauty to be valued and admired.
What I didn’t like
This book was written for a younger audience. Some of the logistics just aren’t there. These aren’t things children are going to think about. After the things Ivi did I find it highly unlikely that the people of the kingdom would readily accept her back into their good graces. Sure, people can be forgiving and this is a fairy tale land, where, perhaps, people are more forgiving and loving than the real world, but you must have a little reality. These people are not going to be happy that Ivi did what she did. They’re not just going to say, “Well, you did these horrible things, but we’re ok with it now.”
I kind of feel that Gail is promoting body acceptance among young girls with this book, but she never exactly comes out and says that Ada is beautiful just the way she is. Sure, the prince likes her. Ada learns to live with herself. People come to appreciate her for who she is, but no one just up and says, “Hey, Ada’s beautiful.” The entire idea of body acceptance is to accept who you are, but to also appreciate and find beauty in everyone and everything. It’s more of, “Ada came to realize that her strong body was beautiful and she could do many things with it and sing beautifully. She also had htun hair, which was rare and that was beautiful,” rather than, “The people valued Ada for her voice even if she didn’t fit into their beauty standard.” The idea of body acceptance is to do away with those unrealistic beauty standards. You look at a person and find something beautiful or wonderful about them no matter what. I don’t feel that Gail entirely did that with this book, but maybe it’s a step in the right direction. I kind of feel that Ada was still something of an outsider after everything was said and done.
Somebody punch that stupid mirror in the face.
ada, authors who make up languages, beauty, conventional beauty standards, ella enchanted, fairest, Fairest by Gail Carson Levine, gail carson levine, gnome, htun, made up languages, Snow White, snow white and the seven dwarves, story retellings
Children’s, Coming of age, Fantasy, Feel-Good, Fiction, Finding Your Self, Levine-Gail Carson, Romantic Fiction, Young Adult