The Stepsister’s Tale By Tracy Barrett

I received this galley in consideration for an honest review.

The Stepsister’s Tale By Tracy BarrettThe Stepsister's Tale by Tracy Barrett
Published by Harlequin on June 24, 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Retelling

Jane Montjoy is tired of being a lady. She's tired of pretending to live up to the standards of her mother's noble family-especially now that the family's wealth is gone and their stately mansion has fallen to ruin. It's hard enough that she must tend to the animals and find a way to feed her mother and her little sister each day. Jane's burden only gets worse after her mother returns from a trip to town with a new stepfather and stepsister in tow. Despite the family's struggle to prepare for the long winter ahead, Jane's stepfather remains determined to give his beautiful but spoiled child her every desire. When her stepfather suddenly dies, leaving nothing but debts and a bereaved daughter behind, it seems to Jane that her family is destined for eternal unhappiness. But a mysterious boy from the woods and an invitation to a royal ball are certain to change her fate...

If you look at the story of Cinderella, which has hundreds of variations across hundreds of different cultures, it is really a story about someone who triumphs over an oppressor.  It is the story of a girl who no one thought could be anything, rising above her “station” and grabbing the big prize, which is usually a good marriage.  In The Stepsister’s Tale we hear the story with the understanding that history got it all wrong.  Let me tell you what really happened is a common enough refrain in retellings. Unfortunate;y, for this book, I just wasn’t buying it. The key element in Cinderella is the oppressor, who is usually the cruel Stepmother.  There was an oppressive entity, but that was the mother’s pride and the condition of poverty.  The story was really more of a triumph over circumstances, rather than one person’s cruelty, which kind of took something away from it.  The character of Cinderella was really not well developed, so we couldn’t get a sense of how the story was being retold.  Was Cinderella the evil one, now?  Was she simply spoiled?  Without a grasp on the character that usually anchored the story, I could gain no footing on the switch in perspectives.  I also never really felt as if I got to know the stepmother, who was another character that served as an anchor in the original tale, as well.  I feel very strongly that if you are going to retell a story that is so deeply ingrained into the cultural psyche of so many readers by switching the perspective, you must still have at least some focus on the character that the reader knows best.  I didn’t appreciate the retelling because I didn’t recognize the character growth, even from a different angle.

That being said, I think that The Stepsister’s Tale was a good story.  As a retelling it didn’t work for me, but as a story about three girls, a depressed mom, and one sister’s struggle to keep them all alive, it worked.  I loved how strong and resourceful Jane was.  I loved the way we saw their mother’s desperate clinging to a house and a name that was crumbling around them.  I loved the sweet romance and the struggles the people in the forest faced from the king.   On its own merit, it worked.   It was an entertaining book, overall, I just don’t think it needed the “retelling” banner over it.



About Tracy Barrett

Tracy Barrett is the author of numerous books and magazine articles for young readers. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree with honors in Classics-Archaeology from Brown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Italian Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. Her scholarly interests in the ancient and medieval worlds overlap in her fiction and nonfiction works. A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study medieval women writers led to the writing of her first novel, the award-winning Anna of Byzantium (Delacorte). Her most recent publications are a retelling of Cinderella entitled The Stepsister’s Tale (Harlequin TEEN); Dark of the Moon (Harcourt), a YA retelling of the myth of the minotaur; King of Ithaka, a YA novel based on Homer’s Odyssey; and the popular middle-grade series The Sherlock Files (both Henry Holt). From 1999 to 2009 Tracy Barrett was the Regional Advisor for the Midsouth (Tennessee and Kentucky) with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is now SCBWI’s Regional Advisor Coordinator.


5 responses to “The Stepsister’s Tale By Tracy Barrett

  1. Hmm. Interesting perspective. I’m glad that it worked for you as just a story, but I was really looking forward to the “other side of the looking glass,” if you will, of the Cinderella story. I agree that you need to keep the characters and their roots at least somewhat recognizable in relation to their original form if you’re going to retell a story, so it’s disappointing that that aspect didn’t work.

  2. There seem to be so many retellings these days! I think it’s interesting that this story might have been stronger without the gimmicky “here’s how it really happened” retelling angle. Definitely still curious to read this one, but now for a different reason. Lovely honest review!

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