The Stepsister's Tale
A PW Book of the Week, PW Pick, Kirkus Books to Sweep You Off Your Feet. Starred reviews PW and Kirkus. Published in Italy by HarperCollins Italia.
Having reimagined Greek classics in novels like King of Ithaka and Dark of the Moon, Barrett offers a provocative inversion of the tale of Cinderella. Halsey Hall—the once-magnificent home of Lady Margaret Mountjoy and daughters Jane, 15, and Maude, 13—has been falling apart since the girls’ father squandered the family’s money and drank himself to death. With their mother in denial, Jane and Maude have been handling numerous household responsibilities like chopping firewood and tending to animals, making them tan and strong, but not proper ladies to present to society. When Lady Margaret suddenly remarries and presents her daughters with an entitled and haughty new sister, 13-year-old Isabella, conflict is inevitable. Barrett cleverly upends traditional notions of happily ever after—rather than Cinderella’s usual trajectory of rising from the ashes to marry a prince, for Jane, Maude, and their family, salvation comes through hard work, realizing the futility of clinging to a long-dead illusion of nobility, and embracing a “lowered” station in life that truly allows them to live. Ages 14–up.
PW ★Starred review
Despite the singular title, this clever and sensitive retelling of “Cinderella” takes the viewpoint of the supposedly evil stepsisters and turns the story inside out.
Jane and her sister, Maude, live in serious poverty after the death of their handsome but alcoholic father, who wasted the family fortune. They live in their decaying mansion with their mother, who still insists that ladies do not work, although Jane and Maude toil all day, chopping wood, cooking and gathering food from the woods. When their mother returns from town with a new, supposedly rich husband and stepsister, Isabella, conditions worsen, as Ella refuses to lift a finger. When her father also dies bankrupt, the girl sulks by the cold fireplace, playing with the cinders, leading to a new nickname: Cinder-Ella. A royal hunting party brings the prince; beautiful Ella tells the aristocrats of her evil stepmother and sisters. Smitten, the prince holds a ball—but Ella may not find the fairy-tale ending she hopes for….Barrett tells her story straight, painting a picture of the sisters’ poverty that rings true. She includes the major elements of the fairy tale but gives them realistic rather than magical origins, naming Ella’s pony Mouse, for instance.
Highly imaginative as well as insightful, this outstanding revision has the power to entrance and provoke thought. (Romance. 12-18)
Kirkus ★Starred review
. . . Barrett's writing shines with an ethereal otherworldliness that enhances the fairy tale origins. . . .
School Library Journal
Dazzling and enchanting, The Stepsister’s Tale is a finely tuned story that breathes new life into the classic Cinderella tale. Tracy Barrett shines as a marvelous storyteller due to her smooth prose, lively characters and perfectly dramatic plot. Jane is a splendid narrator and possesses all the right qualities for a star heroine. With a sweet romance and hints of the fantastical, this is an inventive must-read!
RT (Romance Time) Book Reviews
Readers in grades 5 and up will be captivated by this imaginative retelling of the Cinderella story from a completely different point of view.
Clever plotting and character development are complemented by rich descriptive passages, and by flipping the tale around, the familiar becomes an unpredictable read. This delightful romance will be an easy sell, especially to fans of fairy tale TV series.
The Stepsister's Tale is a joy of a retelling, twisting and turning the original story of Cinderella until we're left with no choice but to root for those who have previously been villains while hoping the beloved heroes of legends past get their comeuppance. What's so entertaining about this story in particular is the shift in focus from the fairytale romance to the family unit, allowing us greater access to the changing dynamics caused by the addition of new members and the loss of others. While the classic elements of the original tale have their place in this story, it's our viewpoint that's different, our time with Jane and Maude giving us a story more real and less sugarcoated, with characters who play their typical roles in a delightfully atypical fashion. . . .
Like all the other pieces of this Cinderella story, the happily ever after charmingly deviates from the happily ever after of so many little girls' imaginings, the focus on family and the various relationships between the girls remaining in the limelight even when the prince makes his play. Ms. Barrett has written a quick and enormously entertaining story with The Stepsister's Tale, perfect for picking up after a long day for all the sweet comfort it provides despite the darker moments and the challenges the girls face.
Barrett’s comparably quiet account of a household of women working to survive together as a family, sometimes in spite of one another, shines with soft, bucolic realism. The only pampered sister in this tale is Ella, the daughter of the wealthy merchant that Jane’s mother marries in a desperate attempt to rehabilitate the family house and name. After Ella’s father dies and leaves the family in even greater debt, the notion of the Montjoy family honor prevents Jane’s mother from acknowledging their situation, leaving Jane to care for her sister, Maude, the farm animals, and spoiled Ella. When Ella catches the eye of the equally spoiled prince, Jane thinks it might just be the perfect match—or is it? This satisfying story of a resilient young woman’s ingenuity and determination to make her patchwork family survive works its own kind of magic. The weighty portrait of the Montjoy’s crumbling country house feels authentic, and the furtive people of the forest add a touch of fairylike charm. Unfortunately, many of the plot complications are simply misunderstanding, which is frustrating for the reader. Overall, this is an enjoyable read. The inclusion of discussion questions in the back makes it a solid choice for book clubs. Reviewer: Allison Hunter Hill; Ages 12 to 18.
Poor Cinderella. Poor, sweet Cinderella. Or maybe it's a little more complicated than that. Tracy Barrett's new novel for teens, The Stepsister's Tale, offers a necessary update to the classic rags-to-riches story.
Imagine that Cinderella’s nasty stepsisters have gotten a bad rap. It’s really they who live lives of drudgery and deprivation, while Cinderella is the spoiled, spiteful one. And the wicked stepmother? Far from being the abusive Step-Mommie Dearest of tradition, she’s actually a helpless, mildly delusional woman with rotten taste in men. That’s the scenario in Tracy Barrett’s tenth novel for young readers, The Stepsister’s Tale, which puts a hard twist on the familiar story but retains much of its romance and hopeful essence. Without violating the spirit of the folktale, Barrett reinvents it with a sensibility that is distinctly modern: in the world that Barrett creates, female independence and solidarity matter far more than male gallantry. . . .
Barrett takes most of the elements of the traditional Cinderella story—the sibling hostilities, the infatuated prince, the quest for the rightful owner of the glass slipper—and puts them to work in a tale that turns the original on its head. In the folktale, illusion—i.e., Cinderella’s temporary transformation—is actually a revelation of truth because, in the world of that story, beauty equals virtue. The reward for Cinderella’s virtue is rescue from a cruel family. In The Stepsister’s Tale, all illusion is deceptive and destructive, and beauty most definitely does not equal virtue. The ultimate reward in Barrett’s world is salvation of the family, not escape from it.
Traditional gender roles are also subverted, though not entirely, in The Stepsister’s Tale. All would be lost without the daughters’ resourcefulness, especially Jane’s, and almost every shining knight turns out to be a dud or worse. But there is a hefty dose of romance here, and the obsession with appearance is not so much jettisoned as revised to a twenty-first-century, Dove-ad notion of real beauty. Jane’s beloved tells her that she’s “pretty and fine.” When she demurs, he says, “You have that lovely thick hair, and your face shows who you are inside, strong and fearless.”
The Stepsister’s Tale nods to the supernatural, but it’s not really a book for young readers hooked on fantasy. There’s considerable talk about fairies and such, but none fully appear. The magical force at work in Halsey Hall is really family love, aided by hard work and ingenuity. Barrett has transformed a rather mean-spirited old tale into a girl-empowering story that is both gritty and uplifting, a work of romantic realism for the under-fifteen set.
A brilliant and innovative retelling of a classic that gives entirely new meaning to the term “Cinderella story.”
Ruta Sepetys, New York Times bestselling author of Between Shades of Gray
Cinderella has bad manners, and, presto, Tracy Barrett reinvents the fairy tale—a magical book to devour late at night under the covers, flashlight in hand.
Maria Tatar, Chair, Program of Folklore and Mythology, Harvard
Offering a unique twist on a beloved fairy tale, The Stepsister’s Tale by Tracy Barrett gives readers a refreshing look at the story of Cinderellaone that will have you rooting for some unlikely heroines, and rethinking your definition of “happily ever after.”
Barrett cleverly weaves in elements of the well-known Cinderella story, while giving her version a unique twist that is well-rooted in reality. No fairy godmothers here. Instead, you have some young women finding unexpected strength within, learning to be their own heroes.
The Stepsister’s Tale is more than a retelling from the “villain’s” perspectiveit’s an alternate way to consider such a well-known story.
Though the narrative starts off slow (especially given we have a good idea how this story starts), it certainly picks up following the death of Jane’s step-father. Barrett gives readers plenty to chew over as the story continues to unfold, between the drama of surviving, dealing with the spoiled Ella, and encountering new characters in the woods. By the time the infamous royal ball arrives, readers are eager to learn how this new version of the Cinderella story will unfold.