Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

After reading Ella Enchanted last month (hmm–apparently I didn’t finish that review yet), I was interested to see what spin Levine would take. Overall impression: not as good but still charming.

A baby found at an inn is taken in by the kindly owners. She has black hair, red lips, white skin. Sound familiar anyone? We’re taking on the story of Snow White and Levine works in many of the familiar aspects. An evil Queen, a magic mirror, the apple, gnomes (instead of dwarves), and potions.

Aza is considered a freak for her appearance, which is such extreme contrasts of color along with ungainly size. She tries mostly to stay out of the way but still is extremely sensitive to other’s perceptions of her. Her single redeeming quality, in her opinion, is her voice and fortunately she lives in a kingdom where they sing practically everything. Another servant’s illness sends her to court where her talent for ventriloquism lands her in all kinds of trouble.

Levine boldly addresses how a young girl with self-esteem issues can be manipulated by those she perceives as being kind to her. Aza is torn between hating the Queen–for whom she uses her vocal tricks–and wanting to be her friend. It’s a common theme in junior highs and Levine quite accurately catches the torn emotions as Aza tries to please everyone and still feel true to herself.

The prince left something to be desired. He seemed nice enough but not someone who would really capture one’s interest. He’s present but without a lot of description or characterization and I would have liked to see him step up a little more. Aza spends a couple of chapters “beautiful” due to trickery and a potion but returns to her usual appearance, which the prince proclaims he loves more. It’s a nice gesture on Levine’s part but it didn’t quite ring true.

Having an entire country where nearly everything was sung was a neat feature but it got old near the middle of the book. I’m a singer and I think it would annoy me to have to sing all the time like this. It was wearying that there were more songs and more songs and without any melodies to actually play in my head along with them, the sometimes lack of poetics just made the songs feel awkward.

A quick and interesting read for your tweenage girl and fun to escape into, but probably not a book I’ll pick up again.