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Monday, January 31, 2011

Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine

This book was not on my reading list for the month of January. It's in my reading stack but I intended to get to some other titles first. However, Fairest was staring at me from my bookshelf and I was feeling in the mood for a fun piece of fiction so I picked it up. I had picked up a used copy of this book sometime last year and just never got around to reading it. Now, I'm glad to have done so.

First off, this book is marketed to 8 to 14 year olds which I think is atrocious. There is no way on earth I would hand this book over to an 8 year old. I would also personally think twice about handing it over to a 12 year old. Fourteen is growing more reasonable.

The reason: the romance. Oh, it's incredibly tame if you are an adult. (It's just some kissing and extremely mild descriptions of love.) But EIGHT!? I think not!

For myself, the romance was so tame and the fairy tale and magical aspect of the story so strong that my 30-something year old self wasn't bothered by it. Awhile back I read Ella Enchanted (linked to my thoughts) and had the same feeling. Fun story. Magical. Winsome. Not really suitable for the age it's being marketed to.

In Fairest we meet a young girl named Aza whose "singing is the fairest in the land" of Ayortha. Her drawback is that she is hideously ugly - such that customers at the Inn that her family owns do not even want to look at her. Aza doesn't know, exactly, where she comes from. She was brought to the Inn by a wench who smuggled baby Aza in and herself out. The innkeeper and his wife (and their children) adopt Aza and love her as one of their own.

Despite her ugliness, a Duchess who patronizes the inn takes a fancy to Aza's company and invites Ava to join her as her companion when she travels to the castle to see the king marry. Aza is both excited and terrified to be able to go. She would love to see the King marry (and his chosen bride!) and participate in the sings but she knows that her appearance causes others distress. What other people do not realize is that Aza also has a secret talent. She can "illusing" - which involves throwing her voice to different parts of the room and mimicking others. Unfortunately, the new queen discovers Aza's talent and this ultimately puts Aza in great danger.

I thought this was a really clever story. I enjoyed the plot, I cared about the characters and I had a hard time putting the book down! I devoured it in one day. It is an absolutely fanciful fairy tale and I really enjoy Levine's style.

As an aside - the family structure in this book is top notch. Aza's parents love her fiercely and devotedly. Her relationship with her siblings is admirable. Much better than the father figure in Ella Enchanted, that's for sure! At one point in the story, when Aza is in danger, her father writes her a letter in which he states: "We know the daughter we raised. We fear for your future, but never for your character. You take our love and our trust wherever you wander. Father."

My dad said something similar to me at one time and so this particular passage in the book struck a deep chord with me. I so loved reading about the relationship that Aza had with her parents. I could say a good bit more on this topic but I'll leave it with Aza's Father's remarks for now.

I heartily recommend this one to adults who just want to escape into a good, solid story. I just have problems, as I said, with handing it over to younger readers because of the kissing and romance. Probably this is very tame and light romance, all things considered. Still, I hardly see the point. The twist, turns, suspense, ogres, gnomes and daily castle life is thrilling and enchanting enough. I wish authors would let girls be girls and save the romance for later. Definitely not a read for an eight year old, but I was completely enthralled and delighted! I would be happy to lose myself in more of Levine's work. In fact, I look forward to doing so!

Although this is marketed as middle grade reading, I'm marking it YA and General Fiction because I think that's more appropriate.

14 comments:

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I enjoyed Ella Enchanted, so I'd probably enjoy this. Thanks!

mommablogsalot said...

Great review, this sounds like a good book!

Annette W. said...

I never read Ella Enchanted...nor had I heard of Fairest, but it does sound good!!

kathy@bookskidslike.com said...

This book has been on my TBR list, and, now, I feel inspired to move it closer to the top. Great review!!!!

Laura Fabiani said...

Thanks for this wonderful review. I just bought this for my 10 year old but maybe I will wait before reading it with her.

Bluerose said...

I was so excited to find this one on clearance last year at Books-a-Million! And yet it's still in my TBR stack. I'm looking forward to it, though.

bekahcubed said...

I've enjoyed most of Gail Carson Levine's fairy tales--but I agree about the romance. It does seem a bit much for an eight year old--especially when the heroines are generally 14 to 16! It's one thing to read a fairy tale romance and think "When I'm grown up"; it's quite another for a pre-teen to read such a story and think "In a few years".

Shonya said...

What an outstanding review! Makes me want to read it, as usual. And I quite agree with you on our overly-romanticized culture for our young girls. It's so nice to hear someone else say it too. . .

Amy said...

I love books like these that we can just get lost in. Sounds like something I would enjoy.

Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

Sounds like a fun book. But give an 8 year old a romance book? Yikes! As the mom of an almost 8 year old BOY I shudder at the thought of a little girl thinking boyfriend/kissing thoughts about him. Shudder and my hair stands on end!

Kate {The Parchment Girl} said...

I read Ella Enchanted multiple times when I was a kid. I was definitely older than 8 when I read it though! Probably more like 10 or 11. I read fairest a few years ago shortly after it came out. I liked it, but it didn't strike me as much as Ella did.

Krista said...

Oh, a fun one! I saw Ella Enchanted awhile back, but I bet it would be better in book form if it was made from that. I used to read all my mom's books for her 5th/6th grade classroom, but she's not teaching anymore... boo! They were a great escape! One of my all time favorites along these lines was called Princess Academy. Have you read it?

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a great review! I've just finished this book and yes, it really is a fascinating book. Excellent discription on the book review!

Anonymous said...

I've never read Ella Enchanted before but... I've read Fairest and many people are suggesting this book, so I hope I'll get to try Ella Enchanted if I have time to start another book club!

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