Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: Prom fever has infected LA—especially Cindy’s two annoying stepsisters, and her overly Botoxed stepmother. Cindy seems to be the only one immune to it all. But her anti-prom letter in the school newspaper does more to turn Cindy into Queen of the Freaks than close the gap between the popular kids and the rest of the students. Everyone thinks she’s committed social suicide, except for her two best friends, the yoga goddess India and John Hughes–worshipping Malcolm, and shockingly, the most popular senior at Castle Heights High and Cindy’s crush, Adam Silver. Suddenly Cindy starts to think that maybe her social life could have a happily ever after. But there’s still the rest of the school to deal with. With a little bit of help from an unexpected source and a fabulous pair of heels, Cindy realizes that she still has a chance at a happily ever after.
Type of Adaptation: Modernization inspired by Cinderella
Yeah, so, originally, I wanted to review Cinderella: Ninja Warrior by Maureen McGowan for reasons that should be self-explanatory. Cinderella. Ninja Warrior. Why wouldn’t I pick that novel?
But, sadly, it ended up being a Choose Your Own Adventure type of novel, which was going to be super hard to review. So I went with choice number two, because I wanted to do an modernization if there was one. And there was . . . but that “inspired by” . . . well, we’ll get to that.
So, this novel is set in LA, and our protagonist, Cindy Ella, has just committed social suicide. How, you ask? Well, by writing a letter to the editor of her school paper denouncing prom. She tells her classmates that they are brainwashed by society to see prom as a major rite of passage, but that one dance shouldn’t be that all important, and they should stand with her and boycott.
She was expecting to stir up the waters. That’s not what happens. What happens is that everyone hates her and she becomes a social outcast.
Now, I don’t personally remember my proms being taken this seriously, but then, I did go to school in hickville, Ohio rather than Hollywood-obsessed LA, so I’ll take this reaction with a grain of salt.
The only two people who stand by Cindy are her two best friends, Malcolm and India, and their inclusion made my eyebrows quirk because I wasn’t aware that Cinderella had friends, I thought that was kind of the point of her story, but hey, A Cinderella Story made it work, so I’ll let it be for now.
Two of the people who are appalled by Cindy’s actions are Ashley and Brittany, her twin stepsisters, nicknamed “the Clones,” and once they tell their mother what Cindy has done, her stepmother is appalled, too. She’s concerned that Cindy is acting out, and that this article is a sign of her deep-rooted depression following the loss of her mother, and that if left unchecked, Cindy might start self-mutilating or something equally drastic.
Which, correct me if I’m wrong, doesn’t quite seem in keeping with the usual attitude of Cinderella’s stepmother. But at least she’s still practically a servant in her own home. I mean, constantly being asked to babysit her baby brother if she has nothing else going on? That’s totally the equivalent of hard manual labor with no pay and humiliating work conditions.
Yeah, the longer I read this novel, the less it read like Cinderella.
And the plot is one of the most high-school-drama-centric things I’ve read in a long time. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I understand that these are issues that, in the moment, do seem all important to these kids. But coming from the perspective of a 24-year-old with student loans to pay back, a slightly laughable degree in terms of finding a job, and the prospective of a cross-country move in about five months? I find it really hard to connect to a girl whose biggest troubles stem from the fact that she can’t decide who of the three hot guys she has a crush on to focus her attentions on.
Because when you boil this book down to its essentials, that’s what it becomes. Cindy has eyes for Adam Silver, the most popular guy in school, to whom she has never spoken. And then there’s her 23-year-old SAT tutor upon whom she develops an instant crush. And in the third corner, we have BrklnBoy, an online friend she chats with who, if you’ve seen A Cinderella Story or really read a book ever, you will know is actually Adam Silver.
And Cindy’s level of obsession not only about these three guys but also about how she appears and is presented to these guys is really disappointing to encounter when she is supposedly so very anti-Hollywood values.
And that’s the biggest thing for me here – for a girl who wrote such an impassioned letter against prom and its superficiality, she is awfully fixated on Operation Turn Cindy Into a Girl, which, no seriously, is what it’s called. This new crush, her tutor, walks into the scene, and suddenly Cindy is trying makeup and straightening her hair and wearing new clothes and the whole nine yards — exactly what she is supposed to be denouncing.
It doesn’t help that the Cinderella narrative completely disappears for about 150 pages, meaning that this is the only thing left to focus on.
Noah turns out to be gay, by the way. If you didn’t see that coming. He’ll fill the role of the fairy godmother, or as I like to call him, the Fairy God Gay Man. . . . yeah, the title needs work.
So let’s recap briefly. You have a Cinderella figure, except, not really because she isn’t a servant, she doesn’t have an oppressive family, and she has no desire to go to the ball. . . . Where’s our story, again?
Ah, right. Pointless high school drama. Got it.
The Cinderella narrative reemerges . . . ish . . . as prom draws closer and Cindy finds herself abandoned by India and Malcolm, who have both been asked to go, so they will not be standing with her in anti-prom solidarity. She’s complaining about all of this to BrklnBoy, who asks her to be his not-prom date. Thinking it’s a joke to make her feel better, she accepts.
So she’s in for quite a shock when he messages her the day of prom and asks what time he should pick her up. She’s all, “But you live 3000 miles away in NY!” and he’s all “Lol, no. I go to your school. Conveniently, I’m Adam Silver, your crush, and I’m anti-prom, too, isn’t that fantastic?”
All this is paraphrased, of course. In the novel, there’s much more chatspeak and unnecessary abbreviation, which just . . . fueled my irritation. She’s supposed to want to be a journalist more than anything. Doesn’t seem like it.
Sorry. My grammararian is showing.
So she realizes who BrklnBoy is and that he’s actually going to come get her to do something tonight, so what does our self-professed prom-dress-makeup-hating, t-shit-jeans-and-flip-flop-loving high school sophomore do? Does she go out in whatever, just happy to have time to spend with this boy she’s liked for ages and turns out to actually know? Does she say, “hey, I have to babysit my brother, so how about just hanging at my house watching movies?”
Nope! She calls her Gay Godmother Tutor Noah, and they go and BUY HER A FRICKIN’ PROM DRESS AND EXPENSIVE SHOES AND GIVE HER A FREAKIN’ MAKEUP SO THAT SHE CAN BE PRETTY FOR HER CRUSH AND I JUST CAN’TAESDFK;JOAR;LKAV;LKAJRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGE!!!!
I’m okay now. Really. I’m better.
Yeah, okay, they didn’t go to the actual prom, but they might as well have. She still went through the whole ritual, it doesn’t matter that she was freakishly overdressed at a carnival instead of crowded into a gymnasium somewhere, she became what she supposedly hated, and gave into the ritual she literally started the novel speaking out against!
Cindy Ella Gold, give me back your activist card because you’ve lost it.
She also loses a shoe on the ferris wheel. It breaks. And she has to be home by midnight because that’s when her dad and stepmom are getting home, and if they find out that she took their one-year-old son out to a carnival on her date (because yeah, that actually happened), they’ll kill her. Rightly so.
And the next day at school, he returns her shoe, saying, “I think you dropped this last night,” and kisses her in front of the whole school.
Okay. Setting aside all my prom-debate-characterization rage, I have another slight bone to pick.
This novel? It isn’t Cinderella. It isn’t. It tries to be. It throws in a lot of the elements. But a stepfamily and a party and a godmother and a prince and a pair of shoes do not Cinderella make. It’s not about the iconic images, it’s about the situations. Cinderella doesn’t boil down to losing a shoe. It’s a lot more than that.
At its heart, Cinderella is a rags to riches story. This is what you need: a young girl, oppressed in some way, looking desperately for an escape. She finds it in the form of a ball and a prince. She is transformed beyond recognition into the object of desire, but she is lost. A single clue left behind provides the means to find her, and she wins her escape. The rest is just details. Set dressing.
Cindy is not oppressed, not looking for escape, doesn’t want the ball. She’s transformed, but the mystery isn’t there. Her identity is never in question. He never has to search for her. Hell, they never even make it to the party, and that’s kinda key, because it’s not just the prince for whom she is transformed; it’s everyone. And that’s just not there.
There’s a party and a prince and a pair of shoes. But this isn’t Cinderella, despite how hard it tries. And in trying, it just becomes infuriating.
Give Cinderella control of her own destiny? She never needed it. She’s as in control as most 16 year olds. She’s a bit at the beck and call of her stepmother, but she’s never really controlled as such, and her destiny never really comes into play.
Enhance the role of the prince? I found Adam Silver to be shallow and two dimensional, playing at being insightful rather than ever showing any real sort of depth. Sorry.
Address the plot transgressions? Let’s see.
Why does Cindy’s dad allow her to be treated so horribly? He doesn’t. Because she isn’t. She’s asked to babysit, guys. That’s the extent of it.
Why doesn’t Cindy fight her servitude or leave if she’s being treated so badly? Again. Babysitting. Occasionally. And having to listen to her stepfamily’s shallow ranting. But that’s all.
Why hasn’t the fairy godmother made an appearance before this point, if she’s charged with Cinderella’s happiness and well being? Not a fairy godmother as such. Just a gay friend who helps her out in a moment of crisis when called on. Her well being was never really his charge.
Anybody going to question glass slippers? No glass slippers. Just designer heels that rip because she wore them on a ferris wheel.
Why don’t the slippers disappear along with the rest of the FG’s gifts? See above.
Why does the prince need the shoe to identify Cinderella, and is it really reasonable to assume that it will? He doesn’t need it to identify her, he just gives it back to her at school.
Guys, if you want a modern Cinderella, watch A Cinderella Story, which I've mentioned about twelve times in this review because this book really did read like a ripoff of that, frankly, much better movie. Yes, I enjoy that movie. Don’t judge me.