Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine
Ella is cursed at birth to be obedient: any order given to her must be obeyed. Up until she is fifteen, her mother and Mandy, their cook, have kept her safe from harm. That all changes when Ella is sent away to finishing school, where she must learn to brave the world and all of its occupants. Ella’s life is further complicated by the attentions of Prince Charmont, who’s love and friendship she desires, but whose life would be in constant danger if it were to become wrapped up in hers.
This book was my favorite as a child and has always held a special place in my heart. There are few books that are more important to me than the Harry Potter series, and this is one of them. Ella was one of, if not the very first strong female lead character I ever read about, and she has stuck with me through thick and thin. I think I’m on my third or fourth copy of the book because I love it so much that I used to lend it out (which I never do anymore), and people kept losing it for extended periods of time. So now I just buy copies for everyone and give them as gifts.
Re-reading it yesterday on my 25th birthday for what is probably the 30th or 40th time, I noticed a number of things I’ve been overlooking in the story. Growing up I always saw Ella as the epitome of a strong female character. I saw her as selfless, romantic, and kick-butt. Yesterday, I tried to pay attention to the little details, possibly for the first time since my initial reading all those years ago. Mainly what I realized is that there are no 100% good characters in this story. Mandy and Lucinda each have ways in which they can help Ella, but they decline to use their talents. Prince Charmont readily admits that he has anger issues and holds grudges for years – rather like Mr. Darcy’s ‘my good opinion once lost is lost forever’ nonsense. Even Ella is quite selfish. The story is told in the first person, occasionally delving into Ella’s mind and often into her intentions, and typically reveals that she is at her core a human teenage girl, not the kind of hero/heroine to be placed on a pedestal. Ultimately, it is her selfishness and the opposing need to be selfless that results in breaking the curse – in a very odd, somewhat confusing and relatively anticlimactic scene that made perfect sense to my younger self but now seems a little lack luster.
Over the years, I often picked up Ella Enchanted as a comfort read. If I was stressed then I could read about how Ella defeats her demons and gain the courage to fight my own. But this time around it was like looking at one of my heroes through fresh eyes or new spectacles, and realizing they were as much of a selfish brat in their early and mid teens as I was. Up until more recently, I deeply identified with Ella’s character, and growing out of her feels like I’m finally, just maybe, growing up.
This book is not perfect. I can admit that now – maybe for the first time – but it will always be especially dear to me. I may even love it more because of its imperfections. I definitely recommend this book (not the film. PLEASE NOT THE FILM) to LITERALLY EVERYONE, because there are just so many lessons, adventures and discoveries to be found in its pages.
HHC Rating: 5 Stars
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