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Reviewer: Melissa on June 24, 2020
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
It’s 200 years since Cinderella found Prince Charming, but in Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron, the fairy tale has long been over. Teen girls are forced to appear at the Annual Ball, where the kingdom’s men select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If they don’t find a suitable match, they might never be heard from again. Sixteen-year-old Sophia would rather marry her female friend Erin than put herself on display for the potential suitors. She makes the desperate decision to run and hides herself in Cinderella’s mausoleum where she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together, they vow to bring down the king and his patriarchal society, and in the process, learn that the story they learned as children was far from complete….
I requested Cinderella Is Dead for review, thinking that I would like to read more queer fairy tale retellings during Pride Month. When I first started my blog, I read a bunch of fairy tale retellings, but the ones available 10 years ago when I started YABookShelf.com were incredibly white and heteronormative. In the intervening years, times have changed and my reading decisions have changed with them, which made finishing this novel as part of #QueerBlackathon a no brainer.
As you may have guessed from the cover and title, Cinderella Is Dead is a YA retelling of Cinderella featuring a strong and beautiful, queer, Black main character named Sophia. Sophia received her first invitation to attend the Bi-Centennial Ball at her King’s castle, but attendance isn’t optional. Starting a year after Cinderella was married, the young women of Lille were forced to attend the Ball to get a suitor before the age of 18—they had three chances max—or they would become forfeit and never seen or heard from again.
In the opening moments of the novel, Sophia and Erin have met in the forest of Lille’s eastern border and are hiding for their lives from the palace’s guards. They are about two minutes away from certain death if they are caught because Sophia is, once again, trying to convince Erin to leave Lille and spend their lives together. Sophia wants nothing that the approaching ball has to offer, but while Sophia hopes that the a world outside of the restrictive and constrictive life in Lille, one that’s not unlike her tightly-drawn corset, Erin doesn’t see any possibility in a life beyond the one she knows.
As one would expect, Cinderella Is Dead has a great deal of magic and mystery, but it might not come in the form you remember from the Brothers Grimm version of “Cinderella.” Rather Bayron tweaks it in myriad ways until it’s a tale that’s uniquely her’s. I was able to guess one of the major reveals, but several others were completely unpredictable and will blow your minds just like they did to Sophia and Constance when they came face to face with what really happened to Cinderella and her family.
Bayron’s debut novel is one that gave me chills at times, in particular when Luke, another queer character who Sophia meets on her journey, says: “‘Just because they deny us doesn’t mean we cease to exist.’” I think it’s a story that everyone needs to read not only because it features a strong, Black, queer character at the story’s centre, but also because her tenacity will, hopefully, give both teen and adult readers the inspiration to use their voice to resist, or even destroy, the patriarchy. In fact, she offers a call to arms to the reader when she says:
Do not be silent.
Raise your voice.
Be a light in the dark.
Even when nearly everyone else around her is resolved to accept the status quo, Sophia is focused on the kind of inequality that all of Lille’s girls and women faced and the kind that Black, Indigenous, other people of colour, and LGBTQIA+ people are facing in our current political climate.
If you like fairy tale retellings, then definitely add Cinderella Is Dead to your TBR. I can promise you that you’ll never look at the classic tale the same way again, and more importantly, you’ll be hoping—just like I am—that Kalynn Bayron’s next book is a remix of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” (Constance has a book of fairy tales in this book, which includes a variety of stories, including one that sounded an awful lot like Snow White’s stepmother and the magic mirror, and I, for one, would love to see more.)
Pre-order Cinderella Is Dead today—it releases on July 7th—and save 10% off the regular price!