cover image Just Ella

Just Ella

Margaret Peterson Haddix. Simon & Schuster, $17 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82186-8

Haddix (Running Out of Time) puts a feminist spin on the Cinderella story, beginning her tongue-in-cheek novel where the traditional story ends. Ella Brown plans to live happily ever after when Prince Charming whisks her from her evil step-family. But when she arrives at the castle, she discovers that the prince is a dull dud, needlepoint is now her most strenuous activity and her ladies in waiting are abuzz with a concocted tale involving Ella, a fairy godmother and a pumpkin (in fact her own resourcefulness got Ella to the ball). When she refuses to marry ""Charm,"" as she calls him, she is thrown in the dungeon to be held there until the wedding day. Making matters worse, Jed, her one kindred spirit, unaware of her imprisonment, leaves to start a refugee camp for victims of the castle's war with a neighboring kingdom. But luckily Ella is not a girl who needs magic or a man to save her. Haddix weaves in elements of fairy tale, with colorful characters such as Lord Reston, Ella's portly, pompous religious teacher; Quog, the ogre-ish jailer; and, of course, the cruel-to-the-core Step Evils. But Ella's modern sensibility seems jarring against a chivalric backdrop (e.g., ""Don't that beat all?"" Ella says, imitating a servant). Still, her straightforward, often gleefully glib narrative breathes fresh life into the tale. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)