Just Ella

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Pretty good, but not my favorite.  Enjoyable, but not satisfying.

A good plot summary and character write-ups from Wikipedia:  “This story is a retelling of Cinderella with a feminist twist and is a different version of happily ever after.”

Haddix has a lot of good ideas and topics in the story, like her new conjectures about the myth, Ella’s time in the dungeon, and statements about happiness:  “Happiness was like beauty–in the eye of the beholder.”  I also liked how Ella had a can-do attitude and did not limit herself in her options.  When she was still at her stepmother’s house she planned to run away and become a tutor, a smart solution.

But I found some parts of the book underdeveloped, such as the relationships between the characters, the conflicts in and outside of the castle, and the day-to-day actions of life for Ella.  It didn’t seem like a true portrayal of castle life.  Maybe I’m being too harsh, it is after all a fairy tale and thus the details are up to interpretation.

The love between Jed and Ella is temperate at best.  The reader can tell from the start that they will end up together, but we miss the important details of how their love becomes a reality.  One good romantic line uttered by Jed, ‘A moment passed before he admitted softly, “I couldn’t stand to call you ‘Princess’ or hear anyone else refer to you as ‘Princess,’ because that reminded me you would never be mine.  So in my mind you were always just Ella.”‘

I have read other books by Haddix (the Among the Hidden series) and had the same feeling.  With some juvenile fiction books it’s almost as if the author is dumbing down the story to appeal to juveniles.  I believe that anyone can understand good writing.

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