Mirror, mirror on the wall…what’s the Fairest book of all?

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine; published by Scholastic, New York, 2008 (original text copyright 2006); 326 pages.

Whether you live in the USA or Ayortha, teen girls seem to be the same.  Take Aza, for example.  She is the adopted daughter of innkeepers in rural Ayortha.  Every guest either stares at her or makes a comment about her looks.  Truly, she is different than others in the kingdom: dark hair, pale skin, ruby red lips, tall and bulky in a world of blond imps.  Yet she can out-sing anyone, a trait highly treasured in a kingdom that holds regular “sings.”  And through a series of unbelievable serendipitous events, she finds herself in the castle; hand maiden to the queen and desperately in love with the prince.  Will her aberrant looks keep her from reaching her potential?  Will she be able to save the kingdom from the malevolent presence in the queen’s mirror?

Wow, I am going to have a hard time reviewing this.  I was bored almost to the point of putting the book down until almost halfway through the book.  If it weren’t this month’s selection for the middle school book club, I would have “divorced” the book and left it half-read.  But I’m glad I finished it.  Preteen girls and young teens should read this book, which is a bit of a cautionary tale about self-image.  However, the lesson of self-love and acceptance may be lost if the girls find it as sappy as I.  Seriously, it was too convenient for the prince to love her at first sight, to think she is beautiful in spite of outward appearances.  For me, the best part of the story was the way Levine played new riffs on the Snow White theme; that made the story interesting in the second half.  For instance, Aza often comments about her dislike of apples.  Or the guard, Uju, took her into the woods to kill her but spared her life instead.  The dwarves are gnomes, but they love and care for her during her exile.  Cool twists like that kept me involved in the second half of the book; but my interest was in seeing the author’s craft, not in participating in the story.

Sadly, readers who are familiar with Levine’s Newbery Medal winning Ella Enchanted will be disappointed.  I am cringing at what the young men in the book club will say Thursday afternoon.  Or the girls, for that matter.

3P     3Q     Grade Level: 5-9

Cover Art: A Medieval look and the coy glance of a half-hidden face will attract female readers.

Suggested Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

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