At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: “Instead of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.” When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella’s life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.
Over the last couple weeks, my girlfriend and I read Ella Enchanted aloud to one another. (Have you ever had someone read to you before going to sleep? It’s magical.) It was the first time either of us had read the book in years, but it was just as delightful as it was in our childhoods (and much funnier!).
Ella Enchanted is a unique, adventurous take on the old Cinderella tale. If you have any interest at all in retold fairy tales, this one is a must-read. My favorite thing about the book is Ella herself—she has an incredible amount of agency for a girl who physically must obey when faced with an order. She takes charge of her own life wherever she can: running away from etiquette school, where she is forced to obey her awful step-sister’s every whim; going in search of Lucinda, the fairy who cursed her; developing a friendship with the handsome and charming prince. She is feisty, clever, knowledgeable (she’s fluent in several languages!) and very witty.
I also love Ella’s relationship with Prince Char—it is equitable and based on mutual respect and admiration. Char loves Ella, but he is patient and adamant that she need not marry him if she doesn’t want to. He’s a real gentleman, which is always nice to see—especially in fairy tales.
I recommend this book to everyone–children and adults alike. It’s a very entertaining read, and so funny! My girlfriend and I were actually laughing at our heads off at points. If you missed this Newbery Medal-winner, now is the time to get on it!