Review: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

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Chances are, you’ve heard of the musical Wicked.  You probably even know that it’s based on a book by Gregory Maguire.  What you may not know is that he has written a number of books based on fairytales, among them, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.

We have all heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave among the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty … and what curses accompanied Cinderella’s looks?

Set against the backdrop of seventeenth-century Holland, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris, an unlikely heroine who finds herself swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem to a strange world of wealth, artifice, and ambition. Iris’s path quickly becomes intertwined with that of Clara, the mysterious and unnaturally beautiful girl destined to become her sister. While Clara retreats to the cinders of the family hearth, Iris seeks out the shadowy secrets of her new household — and the treacherous truth of her former life.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister gets four out of five stars.

When I was in seventh grade, my mom bought me Gregory Maguire’s well-loved book, Wicked, which I loved.  After I finished it, she bought Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister for me…and I never read it.  It moved with me from place to place, then last year, one of my Reading Challenge categories was, “a book you own but have never read.” Bingo.

Let me say first of all that I love how imaginative this book is.  Gregory Maguire took a book that I thought would go one way (jealous, promiscuous stepsisters who have hearts of gold), and ran with the story in a totally different direction.  I love how he humanized every character, and drew out their good and their bad.  I love how he painted a picture of their town in the Netherlands.  I love how unexpected the story was, and how beautifully he told it.

If you’re looking for something to refresh your reading palate, this is a great place to start. It’s fanciful and honest, tragic and beautiful.  While it won’t careen around corners and twist like Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, you’ll find yourself unexpectedly spellbound.

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