Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fairiest (by Gail Carson Levine)

Summary of Fairiest (by Gail Carson Levine):
As an infant, Aza is abandoned at an inn.  Fortunately, the inn keeper and his wife adopt and love her.  Growing up, she is often berated and rudely stared at by guests because of her awkward and unseemly looks.  Aza’s voice, though, is a rare and wonderful beauty, even in a kingdom of singers.  When she receives an opportunity to attend the king’s wedding as a companion to a duchess, her voice wins over Prince Ijory and the Queen Ivy—who makes Aza her lady in waiting.  The king is injured during the ceremonies, leaving the self-absorbed and demanding queen to rule.   Her jealousy and vanity prompt her to pressure Aza into a dishonest scheme.   Eventually, Aza is falsely accused and imprisoned.  She must flee for her life…hoping the queen believes she is dead and her family remains safe from the queen's vengeful ways. 

Levine crafts her own contemporary and creative tale within the basic outline of the beloved Snow White fairy tale.  Like her earlier story Ella Enchanted, the narrative is full of mythical and fairy tale characters as well as thrilling adventures.  The author has imaginative twists on the typical story elements, such as the magic mirror, Aza’s benefactors during her banishment, and her enticement into eating the poisoned apple.

Unlike traditional fairy tales, the female protagonist is not limited to a pretty face and a sweet disposition.  Aza attracts people with her character and her voice.  She is sweet and obedient, but as the novel progresses, she becomes more independent and strong.  I like, for instance, that she escapes prison by her own devices and that she saves the guard from the ogres.  Aza is bullied and ridiculed, which has an impact on her confidence.  It also makes her character resilient and accessible. 

A unique feature of the narrative is the use of songs.  Music is a core element of the community, resulting in “sings” and singing to each other like a modern day musical.  I listened to this book on a CD version that put music to each song.  I was not crazy about the singing.  I found it a bit distracting and, even at times, annoying.  I think if I “read” this story instead, I would have scanned through the music so it would not be as off-putting.  Many will probably enjoy this aspect though. 

Fairiest will resonate with contemporary young girls because Aza is an average girl who uses her unique talents and positive character qualities to win over the prince, instead of her looks and sex appeal.  The book is filed in the young adult section at my library, but I believe middle grade audiences will enjoy it as well.  I recommend this modern retelling for ages 10 and up. 

For other great middle grade reads, please visit Shannon Messenger's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday round up.  


  1. I loved Ella Enchanted. I'll have to check Fairest out. Thanks for the review.

  2. Sounds interesting! Thanks for stopping by my blog, it's always fun to meet fellow book lovers out there.

  3. Awesome review! I read Ella Enchanted and now I am looking forward to reading this one. I am a big fan of fairy tales and retelling of them. :)


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