Book Review: Ella Enchanted

“It is helpful to know the proper way to behave, so one can decide whether or not to be proper.”

 Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

This week The Writer Community prompts asked us what childhood book made the biggest impact on us. For me it was Ella Enchanted. Thinking about this book made me so nostalgic that I just had to feature it as March’s book of the month.

At birth a foolish fairy gives Ella the ‘gift’ of obedience. From then on, Ella must obey anything anyone tells her to do. Instead of making her docile, the curse makes a rebel out of her. When her mother dies, Ella is left to the care of her father, stepmother and stepsisters, all who seek to control her. She sets out to track down the fairy and lift the curse, meeting all manner of fantasy creatures and catching the eye of the prince on the journey. It is a retelling of the popular Cinderella story as you have never seen it told before. 

I was (and still am) obsessed with this book. As a child, I read it at least once a year, usually two to three times, and Gail Carson Levine became my hero. I vividly remember thinking what it must be like to be a published author that wrote books as incredible as that, and if anyone asked me about my favourite author, I always said her (even though all my friends said Jacqueline Wilson and had no idea who I was on about).

I love how Levine empowers her characters in the book. Of all the Cinderella retellings that came before it, Ella most definitely has the most freedom and agency in Levine’s story. I love how the author experiments with traditional female roles and ideal traits in the book. The ‘gift’ of obedience is something that women are commended for in society, yet in the story it is Ella’s curse and her sole ambition is to rid herself of it. On the surface the story might be about a girl overcoming a curse, but really it is about a woman throwing off the constraints society has placed upon her. 

I also love the balanced relationship between Ella and Prince Charmont, Char. They have mutual respect for each other and he empowers her to be true to herself. Despite her curse, Ella is no damsel in distress and, at times, she even saves her prince.

Ella Enchanted was the first fairy tale retelling I can remember reading, and I was mind blown when I realised. I hadn’t seen it coming (in my defense; I was about 9 years old). Now I look back on it, that was the moment I fell in love with fairytale retellings and the way an author can take something familiar and make it feel unique and new. If you want to learn more about the origins of the Cinderella fairytale, then read this post.

If you haven’t read Ella Enchanted, then do yourself a favour and order it now. It is a young adult/middle grade fiction book, but it is one of the most heartwarming and funny fairy tale retellings I have ever read.

Which childhood book had the biggest impact on you?

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