This is one of the ARCs I got at ALA Midwinter.
I have now added a new tag to my list, "middle grade." I was going to use my "young adult" tag for this, but it's so inappropriate for this book that I finally just decided to create a new tag. I'll need to go through my blog sometime and re-tag a few things now...
Ten-year-old Abby has recently moved to Smithville and started attending a new school, and she hates all of it. She misses her old school and city, where people played freeze tag the right way and peanut butter and banana sandwiches were made by putting the sliced bananas on the peanut butter, rather than mashing the bananas and peanut butter into a gloppy mess. Abby doesn't like change. She likes things neat and orderly, and one day she wants to become a judge.
One night, Abby's little brother Jonah wakes her up to tell her that the mirror in the basement is hissing. The mirror was there when they moved in and Jonah, while exploring the house late that night (almost midnight), accidentally knocked on it. Abby goes with Jonah to take a look, wondering if maybe it was all in his imagination. Jonah knocks on the mirror once, twice, three times, and then the mirror starts to suck in both of them and everything else in the basement.
The next thing they know, Abby and Jonah are in a forest. Their parents' old furniture and law books are everywhere. Abby thinks they must still be somewhere in or near Smithville. When she and her brother see an adult, they go to her for help, but she only glares at them. They see the old woman knock on the front door of a house and offer the beautiful girl inside an apple, and they eventually figure out that the girl is Snow White and they've somehow entered a fairy tale. Well, Jonah figures it out first - to Abby, this idea is almost too fantastic to be believed.
On the one hand, Abby and Jonah are happy to have interrupted the old woman and Snow White before Snow White could eat the poisoned apple. On the other hand, they realize they have messed up the story and prevented Snow White from achieving her happy ending and marrying the prince. Somehow, they have to put the story right and find a way to get back home.
The very first thing I wrote in my notes for this book was: “Exhausting.” The story is told in the first person, from Abby's perspective, and I kept imagining her saying everything in a breathless and hyper voice. She had very particular ideas about how her world should be, and even went so far as to create a list of everything in Smithville that was uncomfortably not like how things back at her old home in Chicago were. A lot had changed in her life, very quickly, and she wasn't happy about it. Actually, being somewhat resistant to change myself, I could relate to that aspect of her quite a bit.
What Abby came to realize, via accidentally messing up and then helping to fix Snow White's story, was that change isn't always for the worse. Sometimes the end result is different, but still good.
Or at least that was Abby's thoughts on everything that happened. Whether readers will feel the same about the changes to Snow White's story is another matter. I'm on the fence about it all.
On the one hand, I was surprised about the number of very unexpected things that happened, and those surprises at least made for an interesting read. The detail about Abby's parents' law books being sucked into the fairy tale world along with Abby and Jonah turned out to be very important. Also, Snow White's reaction to the prince was amazingly level-headed, once she got over her shyness and tendency to squeak when she was around him.
On the other hand, I kind of missed the magic and romance I was expecting. If I remember correctly, the only magical thing in the whole story was the mirror (mirrors?). As far as the romance went, Snow White turned out to be too practical for love at first sight, which is all the story would have had time for.
Others might find an injection of realism into a fairy tale to be refreshing, but I should probably mention that it's a very simplified realism. At one part in particular, I think it would have actually been more believable if magical explanations had been trotted out instead. An excerpt from my notes: “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation cannot heal a chest wound.”
This wasn't a bad book. Abby was a vivid, likable character, and the story was the kind of light, fluffy read I needed after finishing Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers. Some of my favorite scenes involved Abby interacting with her brother – I particularly liked the bit in the beginning, when Abby quizzed him about what he'd supposedly seen and heard in the basement and why he was up so late (Jonah's color-changing alarm clock sounds awesome). If it weren't for the fact that I usually read books aimed at YA and adult audiences, not middle grade, I could see myself at least trying the next book in the series. I don't know if I'd read further than that, though, if the next book turned out to be as magic-less as this one.
My grade for this: C+. Keep in mind, this is my personal grade. I have absolutely no idea what the book's intended audience (children ages 8 to 12?) would think about it, although I suspect they'd enjoy it more than me.
I think only the first book in the list below actually matches the age range of the intended audience for Fairest of All. The next two are aimed at older readers, while The 10th Kingdom would probably work best for adults and teens.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- The Ordinary Princess (book) by M.M. Kaye - Another middle grade fractured fairy tale-type story. I haven't read this, but the heroine, a princess gifted with Ordinariness who runs off and becomes a kitchen maid in a neighboring kingdom in order to avoid being married off, reminds me of Snow White and her level-headed decision not to marry the prince right away.
- Wicked Jealous: A Love Story (book) by Robin Palmer - This isn't actually out yet, and I don't have an ARC of it, so I don't know what it's like. I added it to the list because it sounds like another light, contemporary version of the Snow White story, albeit aimed at a somewhat older audience.
- Fairest (book) by Gail Carson Levine - I'm struggling with this list - can you tell? This is aimed at a slightly older audience than Fairest of All, although it's also based on the Snow White story. There's still some humor, but the overall tone is a little more serious than Fairest of All, and there's definitely more romance. I've written about the audio version of this book.
- The 10th Kingdom (live action miniseries) - Okay, I've now definitely jumped outside of Fairest of All's intended audience age range, but I can't help it - every time I tried to think of something where characters entered into a fairy tale world, I kept thinking of this series. I don't think this was ever given a rating, but I'd guess it's maybe PG-13. I haven't written anything about the miniseries, but I've written about the novelization.