Book Review! Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Hello again!
Today I will be reviewing “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” by one of my favorite authors, Gregory Maguire. Maguire is also the author behind the “Wicked” series, which is based on “The Wizard of Oz” series. I realize “Confessions…” isn’t on my reading list, but I found it while cleaning my room & thought it deserved another read, as I have read it before many years ago. Please continue reading for my thoughts on this book!
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Initial Thoughts:
As mentioned above, I think Maguire is a wonderful author, if a bit long winded. He writes paragraphs upon paragraphs, sometimes pages, of descriptive prose. It can be a bit much at times. I’m a long winded writer too though, so I suppose I should be able to relate to him! I like how¬†he takes traditional fairy tale characters and explores different avenues of their story. I’m not a Cinderella fan, although it would probably appear that I am since I have reviewed the “Cinderella 2015” film, and now this¬†book.¬†Despite that, I was looking forward to this story¬†because I knew¬†Maguire was going to write something much more imaginative and complex than what we’ve all seen in the cartoon.

Plot:
“Confessions…” is set in 17th century Holland and essentially tells the story of Cinderella from the perspective of one of her “ugly” stepsisters – as you may well have guessed. If you’re looking for a spin on “Cinderella”, I would say this story isn’t for you. This truly¬†is a version from another perspective focused mostly on telling that person’s story. The reader gets more information¬†on the stepmother and stepsisters such as their history, how they find their way into Cinderella’s family, & their feelings & actions. It takes about 200 pages (out of 368 total) before the reader sees shades of the “traditional” story. The plot is much darker than Disney’s version, although not as dark as it could be, I suppose. There is a twist at the end that I didn’t fully see coming & will avoid spoiling for you so you can experience it yourself.

Characters:
‚ÄstClara aka Cinderella, is a much different character than the Disney Princess¬†most people know and love. If you’re a fan of Cinderella films such as “Cinderella 2015” & “Ever After”, I imagine you will like the overall feel of this character & story in general. Although it takes some time for her to get there, Clara is a much more “modern” woman, compared to her Disney counterpart.
‚Äď Margarethe aka Lady Tremaine aka The Evil Stepmother doesn’t change too much in this version. However, her¬†cruelty is explored beyond the typical reasoning of, “She was jealous because Cinderella was pretty”. That’s certainly true, but a¬†lot of her cruelty stems from living without love. I take issue with this concept because there are people who suffer from loss¬†everyday &¬†don’t enslave their stepchildren. With that being said,¬†I understand that¬†fairy tales serve as metaphors for everyday life. So the overall point is that life without love can turn people into their worst selves. Margarethe’s jealousy isn’t just based on looks. She’s jealous of the good opportunity that will come Clara’s¬†way because of her looks. In her time, most marriages weren’t based on love, they were based on dowries, bringing families together, & creating a lineage to inherit titles & property. In a time when feelings didn’t hold much value, a pretty face was definitely a selling point when it came to matchmaking. A pretty girl could hope to marry someone of good¬†social standing & income. I’m comfortable saying this is still the case today, but that’s a topic for another post. With this line of thinking, Maguire touches on the economic & social implications of a widow with two daughters & the stepmother’s concern for their future, especially regarding potential marriages.¬†SPOILER! I thought it was extremely clever to SPOILER! have Margarethe go blind towards the end of the novel. Margarethe was never able to see her daughter’s strengths &¬†let greed blind her, so it’s only fitting that she ends up literally unable to see. This could also be a reference to a version of Cinderella where, after finding her happy ending, Cinderella has her stepmother/sister’s blinded by having birds peck out their eyes.

Quotes:
Pg 349: If you’re familiar with other versions of Cinderella, you can¬†spot some references to them on this page. There are other references throughout, but this page had the most concentrated amount.
Pg 366: “Who knows what bumblebees, crows, or she-elephants lurked there…” These were all familiars to Elphaba or key characters in¬†the “Wicked” series.¬†I didn’t catch that reference while reading “Confessions…”. I only noticed it by chance because I read “Wicked” (again) after finishing “Confessions” so it was fresh in my mind while reviewing my notes to write this review.

Overall:
An¬†entertaining story that kept me engaged. I thought the idea that love can make or break you, as evidenced by Margarethe, didn’t really carry over to the other character’s relationships, so I was somewhat disappointed by that. Clara & Iris, one of the stepsisters, don’t really blossom when they find love, so that theme kind of fell flat in my eyes. I enjoyed Maguire’s clever story telling¬†&¬†references to other Fairy Tales, versions of Cinderella, & even his own work.

Rating: B+
I enjoyed reading this story, but will it make it to my list of ultimate favorite books? Hm, not quite. As I mentioned above, I felt that one of the main messages of the story wasn’t fully developed so overall, the story didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. I won’t take away any of the messages to build my life upon, it was just entertaining. Nothing wrong with that at all, of course, I would still recommend this book. This is especially good for those looking for darker versions of their favorite fairy tales or wanting to read about a different character’s perspective.

Have you read ‚ÄúConfessions of an Ugly Stepsister‚ÄĚ or any of Maguire’s other novels? If so, what are your thoughts? Do you agree with my character breakdown of Margarethe, the Evil Stepmother? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in¬†the comments below!

Movie Review!: Cinderella 2015

Promotional poster from Disney with my graphic add ons

Promotional poster from Disney with my graphic add ons

My childhood took place during a time in Entertainment known as “Disney’s Golden Age” or “Disney’s Renaissance”. I was raised on princesses and sing alongs. I saw Beauty and the Beast in a movie theater at least 30 times, according to my mother. For Halloween I have dressed up as Chip (the teacup from Beauty & the Beast), Belle, Ariel (The Little Mermaid) both mermaid and wedding version, Megara, Esmeralda, Pocahontas, Snow White, and Jasmine. I was an Annual Passholder to Disneyland and later, Disney California Adventure for many years. I completed 2 internships with the Disney College Program and worked at Disneyland for 2.5 years. To say that Disney is part of my life is an understatement. More recently, my love for Disney has waned somewhat as their prices go up and my bank account gets smaller (thanks, college education!), but I knew I wanted to see their live-action version of Cinderella ASAP!
Without further ado…here’s my Likes/Dislikes/Final Thoughts & Rating¬†which contains SPOILERS! if you’ve never seen any version of Cinderella. Proceed with caution…

Likes:
– The cinematography/graphics/costumes/hair/makeup of the film are really beautiful. Disney’s huge financial resources were¬†definitely put to good use. Supposedly one of Walt Disney’s favorite scenes of animation was Cinderella’s transformation & they definitely did it justice in this version.

– Disney is famous for controversy because a majority of their stories revolve around conventionally attractive Caucasian women waiting for a man to save them. This is a sticky issue for me because I understand they’re trying to be faithful to the original source material which in this case was written by Charles Perrault in 1697. Obviously in this time period society had certain rules & expectations. He could only write about what he knew. However, as a modern audience we know more and want to see films that reflect society as we know it. So I say to Disney, if we can believe that fairies exist and pumpkins can become carriages, give your audience some credit that we could suspend belief a little more to include other races & get rid of certain gender expectations, even if they don’t conform to society at the time the plot takes place. Also, there are other Cinderella stories throughout history, Perrault is not the only author, he’s not even the earliest author. Many cultures have their own version of Cinderella that fits their customs. These tales could have been blended together. Like I said, it’s a sticky issue everyone has¬†a different opinion on. Getting back to the movie! I thought it was interesting that they tried to include other races through the inclusion of a African American/Black Captain of the Guards/best friend to the Prince and a Latina Princess that is engaged to the Prince. They also kind of changed the genders of Cinderella’s mice friends. As I recall, in the animated version there is Jaques, Gus Gus, and Suzy. In this version, there is Jacqueline and Gus Gus. She might have mentioned some other names but I didn’t catch them. My bottom line here is I appreciated their small attempt to include other races and use female characters – because let’s be real, they certainly didn’t have to & people still would’ve seen the film.

– There was a scene when Ella’s father is leaving for a¬†business trip & asks Ella what gift she’d like. Her stepsisters ask for frivolous items, but Ella asks for a sentimental item. That scene is certainly not in the animated version, but perhaps is from the source material or another version. I like this because there is a similar plot point from an original version of Beauty and the Beast. I took it as a nod to Disney’s next live action fairy tale & my favorite Disney movie, so I was happy with that.

– I liked this version’s Prince Charming aka Prince Kit. He stood up for what he believed in and took charge of his own destiny. I appreciated the realistic relationship he had with his father.

– I appreciated the effort Disney put into creating a more in depth explanation for Lady Tremaine’s hatred for Ella. The message of the movie was obviously, “Have courage & be kind”, but¬†also how love makes life beautiful and helps people be the best version of themselves. There was a scene where Ella confronts her stepmother and asks why she’s so cruel to her. She responds with something along the lines of “Because you are young, innocent, beautiful” etc. She trails off, and¬†the implied rest of that sentence is “…and I’m not!” She was a very bitter woman and¬†in¬†another scene she explains why. Her first husband was the love of her life and she was completely destroyed by his death, not only emotionally, but financially. She touches on some of the societal expectations for a single women in that time period – she was basically required to marry again in order to keep her family alive. Her marriage to Ella’s father was a business decision – not a marriage for love. Marriage for love vs. marriage for advancement is a huge theme in this film & many other fairy tales. Imagine how hard her life must have been, to live every day grieving over the death of her husband plus have it constantly¬†thrown in her face that her new husband and step-daughter would never give her the love she was missing because they were still grieving over¬†Ella’s mother. Lady Tremaine lost love¬†&¬†lost herself. While I don’t condone the enslavement of your stepchild, learning a little more of her backstory made her a much more sympathetic character.

– I liked this version of Ella because she knew the way she was being treated was wrong. Eventually she stood up for herself somewhat, which was a vast improvement over animated Cinderella who didn’t really ever complain, if memory serves me right. I always felt that animated Cinderella was an airhead. She let her family push her around and she accepted it all with a smile & a song. I never felt like that made her brave or kind, I just thought she was dumb. At the end of the film when Prince Kit comes to take her away, Ella looks back at her stepmother as she’s leaving the house and with a little smirk says, “I forgive you” & that’s the last we see of the stepmother. In some versions of Cinderella, she totally forgives the family and marries them to Lords of the Kingdom. In other versions, Ella is not as forgiving and has them murdered. This ending was the perfect amount of polite sass, like, “Thanks for all the abuse! It put me on a path to marry the King who,¬†in a twist of great fate,¬†I’m genuinely in love with. Bye, have a great life!!”

Dislikes:
– Everyone kept hyping up Lady Tremaine’s laugh like it was spot on just like the animated film, but I’m not sure what they were listening to. It didn’t impress me.

– As mentioned above, I¬†loved the extravagant costumes used throughout the film. HOWEVER, they needed to get the Captain of the Guards/Prince Kit’s best friend a bigger uniform. He was a big dude & every costume they stuck him in looked extremely unflattering and uncomfortable with his belly hanging out over the top of his pants. I felt bad for the actor.

РThe dress tearing scene was really tame compared to what I remember from the animated film. That scene was a chance to really show the cruelty of the family towards Ella & it just fell flat.

– While I enjoyed the cast as a whole, Lily James (Ella) reminded me too much of Mia Wasikowska (Alice from Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”). I know that’s random & not necessarily a bad thing, it was just odd. She did a lot of heavy breathing, a lot of chest heaving breathing throughout the movie that was kind of distracting. I kept looking at her collarbones moving around. I’m a weird person. I know that, & I’m fine with it.

– One plot point didn’t get resolved for me. Many wonder why Ella didn’t just run away/move out. In this version, Ella explains that she didn’t want to leave her house because that’s where her parents lived and all her¬†memories of them were there. However, she didn’t seem to care about that ONE BIT when Prince Kit came to take her away. They never addressed what happened to her beloved childhood home after she left and she never hesitates to leave it all behind. I would’ve liked at least one line between her and Kit, or maybe her Fairy Godmother, about how the house doesn’t hold the memories, her heart does.

Final Thoughts & Rating:
I really enjoyed this film. It’s the right mix of modern and classic. I don’t have a soft spot in my heart for the Cinderella story, so I won’t be rushing out to buy this, but I still thought it was a well made film.
My Rating: B+

What do you think? Did you see Cinderella 2015? Are you planning on seeing it this weekend? Please let me know in the comments below – thanks for reading!