Stepsister – Jennifer Donnelly


Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly is a challenging book to rate, because I did not enjoy it when I first started reading but was engaged by the end. How do you rate a book that has such completely different feelings from beginning to conclusion? I honestly did not think that I was going to enjoy the book for the first third. I listened to give it a chance, but mostly only because I was still waiting for other books from the library and didn’t have anything else to switch to. I kept choosing to listen to music instead of the book and I never do that. I had gotten four hours into a twelve-hour audiobook and I was shocked that I wasn’t further along because I felt like the pacing and story were so slow I must be almost done. The plot picked up a little after that and things started to become more interesting, I choose the book over music more often and I began to enjoy the story.

Isabelle was not a likable character at the beginning of the book, nor would anyone expect her to be. She’s the ‘ugly stepsister’ and cut off her toes in an attempt to trick the prince. The story was an epic journey of discovery for Isabelle, as she had to rediscover who she was truly meant to be – rather than the hollow and broken version of herself that was cruel and jealous. By the end of the book, I found her to be a more engaging and well-rounded character who had her own voice and interests. Like her sister, she was allowed to be her true self in this book rather than the one-dimensional versions that had been shaped by their mother and shown in the classic tale. I appreciated the characters by the end of the book, which surprised me and speaks to the author’s writing.

The world was interesting, but not generally magical itself. Rather there were some elements, like Fates, Luck, and even a Fairy Queen that brought magic into the world. Without them, it would have been more like a historical fiction novel with battles and quaint provincial lives. The magical beings breathed whimsy into this story, but it is the characters of Isabelle, Hugo, Tavi, and Felix that breathed life into it.

This retelling is dark at times, but so is the classic tale. That being said, there is a lot of violence, abuse, etc in this book so it could be triggering to some readers.

I worry that people will start to read this book and put it down before they make it to the more engaging and interesting parts. I would advise that you read more than a third of it before making your decision because you may find yourself halfway through the book and suddenly enjoying it.

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