We ready to get back into some YA? I thought we might be.
Are we even more ready for an ownvoices Black lesbian fairytale dystopian YA?
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 the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .
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.
Content warning: domestic abuse
I want to start with the disclaimer that while I am a bisexual woman (thus can sort of comment on the WLW aspect of this book) I am a white lady so obviously am not reviewing from an own voices perspective. As always I urge you to seek out own voices reviews if you’re curious about the representation in this book.
Here are just a couple I have found (it’s early days yet so there will doubtless be more out by the time this review is public):
But I do want to cheer this book on from my own little corner of the internet so let me share with you what I thought about this book!
I had a great time reading Cinderella is Dead. As I do with most YA of around this length (around 400 pages for those wondering) I sat down to read it all in one sitting and I was not disappointed. I was prepared for fairytale dystopian and for things to be a bit WLW but was more than delighted with this book overall.
This book is set in a fictional world – though the names do bring up some french connotations. I liked that you got to experience a number of different settings within the book, from the small town to the palace to the enchanted forest. I feel as though this book is a standalone (there are no other books listed) but I would be quite happy reading other books in this setting – maybe 200 years on from this book?
The dystopian nature of the world is conveyed through everything from the portraits of the king on every wall to the copies of the (Monarchy-approved) Cinderella fairytale in every home. There have been a number of ‘dystopia but things are only bad for women’ books in the last few years but this has been one of the ones that captures the way that these awful attitudes seep into every aspect of society. I also liked that Bayron alludes to the fact that things like this don’t happen overnight, the way women are treated in Lilles happened gradually. In a time where people are starting to fight back against systemic racism in the US and beyond it feels important to make young readers aware that change – both positive and negative – can be a gradual thing and you have to be aware.
Sidebar – I haven’t seen any handmaid’s tale comparisons yet (admittedly I haven’t seen many reviews for this at this stage) but it’s worth acknowledging that Handmaid’s tale is not diverse either in terms of race or sexual identity – so I’d probably recommend this book to a young person wanting to explore these issues before I recommended Handmaid’s tale.
I adored Sophia. She is a YA heroine who I love now and I know I would have loved as a teenager. It may just be a product of what I’ve read, but I haven’t seen many books where a YA protagonist is sure of her sexuality. In most LGBTQIA+ YA that I have read (usually contemporary) the main character’s plot comes out of their…coming out. I’m not suggesting that is a bad thing – it’s just nice to see a different narrative play out here. Seeing someone sure of their sexuality is as powerful a thing as seeing someone coming to terms with it. While Sophia can’t be out – due to the way this world works – she nonetheless knows who she is and what she wants.
I don’t think I need to speak too much on the power of having a young Black female protagonist in a YA fantasy novel – the cover alone is inspiring and wonderful. I thought that alongside the more obvious moments there were some really interesting subtle references within the story (many of which I will doubtless not have picked up on). One that stuck out for me was that in preparation for the ball there is discussion of straightening Sophia’s natural hair because the King prefers it that way. The way that shifts as the book goes on is quite powerful (I won’t spoil things for you). The fact that this story is so intersectional is what makes it extra-wonderful in my eyes.
The plot isn’t too new – especially if you’ve read a lot of YA fantasy, but the representation is so wonderful it feels like a new book to me, and I think it’s an important addition to YA shelves. I have been remarkably burned out on YA the last few months and I enjoyed this a lot so either it refreshed my YA tastebuds or it’s doing something different (or both!).
This is definitely one to read, especially if you’re someone looking for more intersectional books – I’d highly recommend you pick this one up.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley – all opinions are my own.
Cinderella is Dead is out August 6th!
What say you? Will you be reading this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!