It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where men select wives based on the level of finery a girl displays. If a suitable match is not found, the girls left behind are forfeited—never heard from again.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. When she flees the ball in a moment of desperation, she begins a journey that reveals the dark secrets of Cinderella’s tale and leads her to a love she never expected. Her only hope is to destroy the king once and for all.
This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.
- Title: Cinderella Is Dead
- Author: Kalynn Bayron
- Cover Artist: credit pending
- Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
- ISBN: 1547603879
- Publication Date: July 7, 2020
- For Ages: 13+
- Category: Young Adult
- Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? 🎃 Fun.
- Content Warnings: domestic abuse, animal death
I’d like to thank Bloomsbury YA for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration.
Forgive me for the cliché, but you’ll never look at Cinderella the same way again. Cinderella Is Dead is a queer Black feminist retelling of the familiar fairy tale that will have you ready to tear down the patriarchy and rebuild a better, more equitable world. Sophia is a 16-year-old girl in Lille, where for the past 200 years all girls have grown up studying the story of Cinderella like the catechism. It is law for women to live by Cinderella’s purported example of modesty, piety, and submissiveness. Among other restrictive laws that affect only women, the king’s decrees say that women must dress modestly, they must be in their houses behind locked doors by 8:00 P.M., and at 16 years of age they must all attend the ball in order to attract a (male, of course) suitor.
Sophia knows that things in Lille are not the way they should be. She has no interest in allowing men to do whatever they want to do to her. In fact, she has no romantic interest in men at all; she’s in love with her best friend Erin and wants to run away with her. Erin, like most of Lille, is too fearful of the king and his men to try to rebel, so—although she also loves Sophia—she spurns Sophia when she suggests they escape and make a better world for themselves outside of the suffocating misogyny they’ve known all their lives. Sophia can’t submit and live a lie, though, so when the ball takes a terrible turn, she runs as far and as fast as she can from a future of certain misery and abuse.
In Sophia’s quest to save the women and the well-meaning but complicit men of Lille from the cruelly sexist regime of the king and those who think like him, she meets two people who share surprising connections to Cinderella herself. Together, they use desperate bravery, frightening magic, and some good old-fashioned daggers to try to bring down the king once and for all. The plot moves quickly and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time (especially when the three rebels make a shocking and macabre decision at about the 60% mark), and Sophia is a galvanizing presence. Her firm belief in justice and her inability to go along to get along are refreshing and inspiring, especially set against the backdrop of the maddeningly regressive Lille.
I’ve seen quite a few reviewers say that the book cares more about telling than showing and that the world-building could have been more substantial. While I agree with both sentiments, I don’t see them as negatives at all. Rather, the book is told very much like a fairy tale, laying out the plot in a matter-of-fact way and presenting a vision of the world the way that it is and the way that it should be. Sometimes a message is so urgent that it needs to be told plainly and directly. The whole novel feels like something that author Kalynn Bayron had to get out into the world. I’m sure that’s true of most, if not all, authors, but there’s a special sense of urgency to this book’s message of tearing down the heteronormative patriarchy that oppresses everyone. And it does harm everyone, even the people that it benefits most. When society tells you to fit a certain mold, you lose the freedom to be yourself, and we all deserve the chance to find out who we really are and to celebrate that identity.
Cinderella Is Dead is an important book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. The story grabs you and never lets go, providing plenty of humor and romance (oh, the romance!) along with its suspense and intrigue. It’s a modern fairy tale reimagining that will make you mourn and rage, but it will also give you resolve and hope. The world has failed women like Cinderella and it is currently failing girls like Sophia, but we can change all that. We can tear it all down and rebuild. We don’t need fairy godmothers to do it; we just need each other.
I give this book 4.5 out of 5 coffins.