Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Just Ella

Just Ella

Margaret Peterson Haddix
Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Simon and Schuster, 1999   ISBN: 978-0689831287

Ella believes that her dreams really have come true. She no longer has to live, working as a servant, with the "Step-Evils," as she likes to call her step-mother and her two step-sisters. Instead, she now resides in the royal castle, living a life of luxury and waiting to be married to Charm, the prince of the realm. Ella believes herself to be in love with Charm, and certainly his extraordinary good looks and beautiful manners make her feel weak at the knees. However, she cannot help wondering about other aspects of castle life. For one thing there are so many rules to follow, many of which Ella considers to be downright ridiculous. Why shouldn't Ella light her own fire, and why does she have to be taught needlepoint for hours on end?

Then, just a few weeks away from the wedding, Ella starts to realize that things are a lot worse than she thought. During a tournament, Ella is not allowed to watch the races or the wrestling bouts. Instead, she has to sit quietly behind a curtain and sew. She must not show her face to the world. She is just an ornament, and she must not behave as if she has any thoughts or needs of her own. Not long after the tournament Ella learns from one of the servants (who is her friend,) that she is indeed an ornament, chosen by the powers that be in the castle to be the prince's consort because of her looks, and not because Prince Charming actually loves her. In fact, Ella comes to realize that Charming has very little in the way of brains, or intelligence. To make matters worse his personality – such as it is – is decidedly unattractive.

Coming to terms with the fact that she does not, in fact, love Prince Charming, Ella decides to call off the wedding. With disastrous results.

In this often funny yet very empowering story, Margaret Peterson Haddix takes the traditional Cinderella tale and stands it on its head. Yes, Ella does indeed get swept off her feet by Prince Charming, but their story is not a 'happily ever after' tale. Instead, Ella has to find her own place in the world, and she has to face the fact that the Prince Charming is not her Prince Charming.

This story is not only highly entertaining, but it shares a very important message with young women: be yourself and find something to do that has meaning for you. Taking the path of least resistance does not necessarily mean that you will end up in the right place.