Cinderella is Dead does away with the familiar rags to riches romance, reimagining Cinderella, her stepmother, and stepsisters as resistance fighters against an evil king, who uses magic to subdue his kingdom. Two hundred years after Cinderella’s death, the kingdom still follows the dark ways of Prince Charming, treating women as second class citizens, who must be married off by the age of eighteen or face the mysterious fate of the “forfeit.” According to the king, this is as Cinderella wished it, since she knew this was what was best for all young ladies. Against this backdrop, we meet feisty Sophia, who is much more interested in finding a way to marry her best friend Erin, than she is in attending the annual mandatory ball to find a husband. When she makes a split second decision to flee from the ball, she is saved by a member of resistance, and finds herself dedicating her own life to changing the kingdom so that women, and LGBTQ people, can live openly as themselves. This book is a definite win for those looking for a story with African American heroines, strong female characters, and an LGBTQ centered romance…but it falls short in a few frustrating places as well.
I always like to get the negative out of the way first, so I’ll start with what I didn’t like about this book. I love strong female characters, but more specifically, I love strong female characters who have depth. The characters in this book do not. Character development is a tricky business, and when an author is trying to make them all fit a certain mold (good/bad, strong/weak, etc.), its easy to end up with very one dimensional characters. Sophia, and the other heroine Constance, are both likable enough, and the villains are all malevolent enough, but because they lack subtlety, everything they do is predictable. I also found it a bit annoying that all the straight men in the story seemed to either be spineless, or deplorable, which just goes back to the fact that I would have liked to see more varied characterization throughout the story. This doesn’t make the book unworthy of a read, but it does make it lack any true element of surprise.
However, the shortcomings of the book are more than made up for with what is done well. The themes of gender equality, of doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing, and that love is love, are authentic and poetically articulated. The core message that girls can do anything they put their minds to regardless of societal constraints, and of the power of knowing your own worth are universally appealing, but the fact that they are delivered through the lens of an LGBTQ romance makes it a great read for young people looking for characters that remind them of themselves, or their friends at school. Finally, I like the fact that the book makes some subtle commentary on the fact that sometimes it can be difficult for parents to do the right thing when it comes to helping their children who act differently than what society says is “normal” but that it doesn’t mean the parents don’t love their children and aren’t rooting for their success. Sophia serves as an example for why it is important to have the tough conversations in families, but to be true to your own nature regardless of the outcome. And don’t worry, there is a very sweet, and satisfying, fairy tale happily-ever-after ending for our leading ladies.
I would highly recommend this book to high school media specialists, and anyone looking for a fresh, modern update, to an old story.