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If you had a childhood in the United States any time in the past thirty years, chances are you have heard the story of Cinderella. You probably saw the animated Disney film and were swept away by Cinderella’s innocence and generosity (not to mention her freakin sweet talking mouse friends. They wore clothes! Tell me that’s not awesome.) Or, perhaps, if you’re more of a traditionalist, you’ve gone back and read the original Brothers Grimm version.
If you have read the original, you already know that there’s much more to the classic story than the sing-song Disney version would lead you to believe. But no matter how you read it, saw it, or heard about it, you have not gotten the full Cinderella experience until you have read Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.
Just as he did with his break-out success turned Broadway musical Wicked, Maguire makes it his mission to ensure that every character has their side of the story told. Through the eyes of our heroine (not drug associated in any way), Iris, the circumstances of Cinderella’s tale are vastly different and much more complex than the straightforward “evil stepmother and stepsisters take advantage of poor, orphaned girl”. Iris and her sister, Ruth, are young, impoverished girls stranded in a strange land with their overbearing mother after their biological father has been killed. After living in squalor for years, their mother manages to marry to a wealthy aristocrat. It is then they meet the enigma that is Cinderella.
Iris must battle her increasing feelings of uselessness, inferiority, and “plainness” as she grows up alongside the beautiful and mysterious Cinderella. She escapes from these feelings with the help of a grouchy painter and his handsome assistant, who help her to expand upon her new found love of art. Meanwhile, Cinderella’s father dies, which causes Cinderella to dive into a world of darkness and depression that Iris, try as she may, cannot do anything about…
One pro tip from me: make absolutely sure you read the prologue and epilogues. While in some books they are forgettable and unnecessary to the story, in this novel they contain some of the very best content. Maguire’s ability to dramatise emotions and share a well known tale in a different way is incredible.
This story is so full of surprises that it is (I know, its cliche), impossible to put down. The characters have personalities that are deliciously twisted and complicated. This new take on an old classic is absolutely worth the read. One fair warning before you go out and buy the book, though. Once you read this book, you will never be able to see the original in the same way again.
The Redeyed Reader