In 2009, the Disney Princess Collection generated a revenue of $50 billion dollars. From tiaras to bedroom furnishings, young girls have the ability to reinvent themselves into their own version of a princess. This desire is not only perpetrated by young girls. Many adult women also desire the perfect fairy tale.
In 1981 Colette Dowling released her book, The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence. After four years of research and traveling around the United States, Dowling made a startling discovery. She discovered that the majority of women she interviewed wished to be saved by a man. Some women blatantly sought a prince to take care of them while others expressed undertones of it. Dowling named this discovery “The Cinderella Complex.” Defined as a psychological and personal dependency, the Cinderella Complex is “a network of largely repressed attitudes and fears that keep women in a half-light, retreating from the full use of their minds and creativity.” Women who suffer from this complex are Cinderellas waiting for their prince or external circumstances to transform their lives.  Although this definition emerged in the early 1980s, it still prevails today. Through romance novels and fairy tales, women are taught that external forces can change their lives despite their own independence.
Yet, there are new trends emerging in fairy tales. New retellings recast women as their own agents. No longer does the prince pick his princess, princesses are now choosing their own prince, casting off the prince for another princess, or simply forgoing a prince while they blaze their own trail. Regardless, most new retellings feature some element of the traditional fairy tale. Heather Tomlinson points out that fairy tales are not cut and dry, but rather offer authors the opportunity to fashion their own retelling. This include exploring darker elements or telling the story from another character’s viewpoint. However, all fairy tales hope for one thing: a happily ever after.
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
In all honesty I can’t believe that it took me over a year to read this book. A teen librarian placed this book directly into my hands and said, “You must read this book. It is so different from any YA book I have read.” I of course blew her off and waited an entire year to read it.
Jeremy Johnson Johnson, yes there are two Johnson’s in there, has always been different. He can hear voices of the dead, specifically the voice of Jacob Grimm. As an outcast of Never Better, Jeremy is used to being on his own. His mother left town suddenly and never looked back. Devastated, Jeremy’s father locked himself in the house and hasn’t seen the light of a day in years. On his own, Jeremy tries to maintain his family’s one-book bookstore by working jobs in the summer. However, Jeremy’s quiet and secluded life is interrupted when Ginger Boultinghouse comes barreling in. Ignoring Jacob Grimm’s voice, Jeremy soon finds himself in the village’s spotlight and in a grim fairy tale of his own.
I thought this was one of the best young adult books I have read in a while. The fluidity of the sentences immerses the reader within the story. It was like melted butter for the eyes, and unlike Seraphina, the text did not become tedious. Furthermore, the character development is superb. Each character’s voice was very distinct, particularly the bakers. I also loved the originality of the plot within the fairytale context. Can you name five original young adult plots on one hand under one minute? Some claim that the plot is fairly predictable, but what fairy tale ending isn’t?
What really stood out to me in this book was the traditional fairy tale elements. Grimm is like a fairy godmother in the story. He protects Jeremy to a certain degree and offers advice. Jeremy can listen to Grimm or ignore him. Another really interesting fairy tale element is the lack of a mother. Take a moment and think about all the different fairy tales and their retellings. Who is always missing from the storyline? The mother. If a mother is present, she is normally in the form of a stepmother or a distant character. I question how the plot might have differed if McNeal would have broken tradition and made the father who took off suddenly and made the mother the recluse.
I would still highly recommend this book to both adults and young adults. Even now as I write this review and hold the book, I feel that the words are waiting to be discovered again.
The Fairy Godmother (Five Hundred Kingdoms #1) by Mercedes Lackey
I’m not going to lie I kind of like this cover. A co-worker thought it was horrendous, but I am a sucker for pretty colors. It was also one of the first books to pop up in my research for adult fairy tale fiction, and the premise sounded promising.
Elena Klovis is a dead ringer for Cinderella.
- She has the evil stepmother and stepsisters. Check.
- She is beautiful. Check.
- Has a godmother. Check.
- Has a prince……He is 12 years old. Uncheck.
Realizing that her situation is not the ideal fairy tale, Elena has two options: continue to live to utter misery until her stepmother returns or become a fairy godmother for the land. Godmother it is.
Under the guidance of Madame Bella, Elena quickly learns the godmother trade and is soon given her own kingdom, where she must manage the kingdom’s fate, deal with virgin-seeking unicorns, and handle a stubborn prince.
The most fantastic element of this book is Lackey’s spin on it. I enjoyed the realistic approach that everyone’s happily after is not supposed to happen perfectly. She also does a splendid job of mixing traditional elements with modern themes. Details, such as virginity, that conventionally hold higher value is just a mere ideal. However, the romance killed me in this book. It was a wham, bam, thank you ma’am romance. My largest complaint was Prince Alexander’s character development.
From the beginning he is an ass and Elena turned him literally into an ass, hoping that Alexander would learn some humility. It is very evident that Alexander does not think highly of woman or those beneath his royal status, as he initially refuses to do any sort of work. He eventually develops a more noble personality and even rescues a young maiden from another knight, whereas only few short months ago he would have demanded his share of this girl. It just wasn’t believable.
I do believe that the series will appeal to young adults who enjoy their fairy tales, despite its misgivings. Lackey eventually explores other fairy tales and mythology.
The first book in the series, The Lunar Chronicles, Cinder merges the traditional fairy tale of Cinderella with a futuristic and science fiction setting.
Living in New Beijing, Cinder, a cyborg, tries to survive her living situation by working as a mechanic for her stepmother. However, Cinder’s life is soon thrown into upheaval by the entrance of Prince Kai, a mysterious illness that is plaguing the residents of New Beijing, and the reveal of Cinder’s past.
Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah
This is technically the juvenile/YA version of Adeline Yen Mah’s Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Daughter. I have read both books, but I prefer Chinese Cinderella. The storyline was a tad bit tighter and kept my attention. Falling Leaves felt a bit more scattered.
I would recommend this book to all those who enjoy an authentic Cinderella story. The book has your evil stepmother and siblings, and the injustice that normally befalls the Cinderella character.
Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories From History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Princesses are not only for fairy tales. In Princesses Behaving Badly Linda Rodriguez McRobbie explores true tales of royal women throughout the ages. Some women were brave and fearless while others became political pawns for their families. Most did not get happy endings. This is a fun history book without the heaviness of a typical non-fiction book.
Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
 Peggy Orenstein, Cinderella Ate My Daughter (New York: HarerCollinsPublishers, 2011), 11-13.
 Colette Dowling, The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence (New York: Summit Books, 1981), 1-31.