Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Maguire, Gregory. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Read by Jenny Sterlin. New York: Recorded Books, 2000.

Maguire likes to shake things up. We all know the story of Cinderella: ugly and horrid stepsisters, raging and sinister stepmother, glass slipper, dashing prince, yada, yada, yada. Maguire unhinges these characters, as if from a magic box, and sets them down as completely different entities. I think in order to enjoy Maguire’s adaptation of any fairytale you have to throw out everything you think you know about the villain and start over. He is adamant that every “bad guy” has a reason for his or her unpleasantness. Take the wicked stepmother in Cinderella. In Maguire’s Confessions her husband has been murdered. Fleeing England with her two small daughters she lands penniless in Holland. She has to rely on the kindness of strangers to feed three mouths and she is savvy enough to know her daughter (Iris and Ruth) are too ugly to be married off to wealthy suitors. They are going to need significant dowries if they are going to attract any man at all. She might not be the nicest of mothers, but it is obvious she is trying to look out for her children and herself. Survival of the fittest. In Maguires’ tale, Iris and Cinderella (known as Clara here) are tolerated friends. They even grow to care about one another. Of course there is a prince but the twist here is that he is intrigued by ugly stepsister Iris because she is witty and can carry on a conversation, unlike the throngs of pretty girls his mother has set him up to meet.
Probably the most interesting spin on Maguire’s take on Cinderella is the commerce side of the times. The tulip trade and art world of Holland play prominent roles in the story. Real events surrounding the crash of the tulip trade and actual artists of the region are cleverly portrayed. My favorite part is when Iris takes an interest in painting and takes lessons with the Master. Turns out, she’s not half bad!

Reason read: August is National Fairy Tale month.

Author fact: Maguire has roots in Albany, New York.

Book trivia: Confessions is Maguire’s second book. The illustrations are amazing (print version, of course).

Audio trivia: Jenny Sterlin does a great job with the accents.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fractured Fairy Tales” (p 94).

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