Entry 106: Stepsister


Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Fiction > Young Adult > Fantasy > Re-tellings
Publication: May 14th 2019 by Scholastic Press
Pages: 352
Format Read In: Audiobook

Summary from Goodreads (GOODREADS LINK)

Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.

When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.

My Review

Trigger warnings: blood, ableism, violence towards animals, child abuse, joking depiction of a suicide, mention of sexual molestation, threat of sexual violence, self mutilation, brief mentions of murdered children, slurs towards women

I saw this book in my Chapters, on the new releases shelf, and I was intrigued by the summary. I know there have already been attempts at giving the stepmothers of fairy tales a voice, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone tackle Cinderella’s stepsister in this way. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, for sure.

What I Liked

  • I became so invested in Isabelle and her story. From the get-go, her personality gripped me and it was amazing to feel connected to her. I would literally want to cry when she encountered hardship and was so interested in seeing her character develop from how she was forced to be to who she truly is. I love stories that focus on the journey of a character; I’m so weak for this trope.
  • Despite loving Isabelle, Tavi–the other stepsister–took the cake for me, in terms of being my favourite! She was so wise and in control, and I loved her investment in the sciences! I also teared up when she finally let out her true feelings on her’s and Isabelle’s crappy upbringing. She deserves the world, frankly.
  • The story will often read like a contemporary novel but it also still manages to evoke the fairy tale style of story-telling. It tells a story of love, courage and consciousness, and how these are important elements in a leader.
  • I was worried about how Donnelly was going to explain away the stepsisters’ cruelty towards Cinderella, but I think she did a great job ensuring that the explanation doesn’t come off as an excuse for bad behaviour.
  • Chance’s troupe was fun! I liked how they had their own scars and still supported each other. I wish we’d gotten more from them; I wouldn’t mind a spin-off.
  • How the magical ink works in this world is so cool!!
  • I’m always interested when authors introduce a character who believes that humans can change vs. a character who believes humans can’t change.

What I Didn’t Like

  • I never stopped wondering why Chance cared so much about Isabelle in particular. We find out his reason but it still seems strange because surely this isn’t the first time he’s made the exact same mistake that got Isabelle into her predicament, if he’s an ancient being, but this appears to be the first time he’s trying to rectify it.
  • Even though the narrative provided the stepmom reasons for why she acted the way she did, it was still full-blown child abuse and I feel like the narrative lets her off to easily on this account.
  • I really believe it was counter intuitive to have Fate fight Chance in this way, if she really believes fate cannot be changed. Fate cares so much about winning this one person from Chance that she goes to weirdly cruel lengths to do so; she even tries to shorten the route of Isabelle’s fate when she should believe it’s inevitable. I didn’t understand Fate’s motivation, in conclusion.
  • Despite being kind of feminist, there was still a quote about what most girls want and insinuating that Isabelle isn’t like most girls. This statement just needs to die.
  • In terms of the idea of beauty, I thought it would have been way more interesting to let the stepsisters actually be ugly (or not attractive by their society’s standards) but instead the story became more of a “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, which is fine but I’m also tired of the trope of the girl who is told she’s ugly by meaner characters and is found attractive by the heroes.
  • There were a few scenes in the book that felt like the author was preaching to the choir, in terms of her audience, and it felt insincere at times.
  • Hugo was an asshole, not a cheeky friend. I could never see him as being anything like a friend to the sisters when he refused to apologize for putting them down and just being downright sexist. His love interest deserves better.
  • While for the most part I liked the tender romance, there were times it got too cheesy, and Isabelle would lean on her feelings for Felix and overthink their relationship constantly.
  • The villains are so cartoonish that it was just laughable. They constantly monologue and would reveal their whole plan in detail just to show how dastardly they are. I absolutely could not take them seriously.
  • The wrap up was so very fairy tale; nice bow and everything. I can’t say I’m disappointed but also I’m not totally happy. I felt weirdly ambivalent even though I cared a lot about how the story would end for Isabelle and Tavi. It just all works out and everyone gets what they want, so it felt like a dull thud after all the action prior.


This was a story of being told all your life that you’re not enough and you finally replying with, “actually I am”. It’s a really fantastic addition to the feminist fairy tale retellings and has an awesome plot with wonderful characters you can root for!

My Rating: 4/5

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