As an avid reader and writer, there’s one question I get asked a lot that I always dread: what’s your favorite book? It’s an impossible question, without an easy answer. I have read so many different books that I have loved for different reasons. And, arguably, the book that I just read that I couldn’t put down, might be more present in my mind than a book that I read a few years ago and really loved. Does that mean I love the recent one more? Not necessarily. And like any good millennial, I had a very long phase where I loved Harry Potter (I mean, I still do). But then you’re presented with this issue of which Harry Potter book is your favorite? Can a whole series be your favorite book?
So, to make things easier for myself I’ve settled on a simple answer. One of the first books I ever loved, and still love to this day, is Ella Enchanted. It is a children’s book written by Gail Carson Levine, and it is a retelling of the classic Cinderella fairy tale. The list of things that I love about this book is endless because quite frankly, I think this book is perfect. I am always a sucker for a good fantasy story, especially one based on a classic fairy tale. And Levine does a great job of crafting an inventive world that feels new around a familiar story. She also follows the most important rule of fantasy, IMO, which is that she creates rules for the world and sticks to them.
The book follows a very satisfying structure, which presents the main character, Ella, with a series of escalating challenges that she has to overcome to reach her ultimate goal. The pacing of these individual challenges is quite good and doesn’t make the book feel like it is speeding up to reach a conclusion. And the ending manages to be both a bit of a surprise and extremely satisfying, which is frankly hard to do.
But maybe the thing that makes this book endlessly perfect, is the main character, Ella. She doesn’t embody the typical damsel in distress often portrayed in fairy tales. Levine manages to stay true to the essence of Cinderella while creating a strong, empowered female protagonist. The entire crux of the tale is based around the fact that a fairy placed a spell on Ella when she was a baby that forces her to be obedient. If anyone gives her a direct command, she is incapable of disobeying. Throughout the entire book, Ella is trying to find a way to break this curse so that she can be truly free to make her own decisions. This addition to the normal story not only explains Cinderella/Ella’s motivations for becoming a “servant” in her own home but also allows for some wonderful symbolism about the danger of losing your free will.
I think that Ella Enchanted is one of the most perfect retellings of a classic fairy tale and a timeless story that will always remain relevant. It manages to be highly entertaining and empowering to young women, which is something we need more of. Because while we get our happily ever after, Ella figures out how to save herself instead of waiting around for a man to do it.