Published by Fire & Ice Books on August 15, 2012
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Everyone knows how all those fairy tales go. The princess gets beautiful, nabs her prince, falls instantly in love, lives happily ever after and leaves her evil stepsisters in the dust.
But what happens when you're the ugly stepsister and your obnoxiously perfect—read pretty, smart, and, worst of all, sickeningly nice—stepsister is dating the charming, tall, devastatingly handsome guy you've had a thing for since you were nine years old?
Quirky, artistic and snarky Mattie Lowe does not lead a charmed life. Her mother is constantly belittling her on Skype. Mercedes, the school mean girl, has made it her personal mission to torment Mattie. But worst of all? Her stepsister Ella is the most beautiful, popular girl in school and is dating Mattie's secret longtime crush, Jake Kingston.
Tired of being left out and done with waiting for her own stupid fairy godmother to show up, Mattie decides to change her life. She'll start by running for senior class president against wildly popular Jake.
Ella can keep her Prince Annoying. Mattie's going to rule the school.
And no one, not even a cute and suddenly flirty Jake, is going to stop her.
Diversity: 0 – What Diversity?
Racial-Ethnic: 0 (Mattie is 1/4 Japanese, but this is mostly cosmetic and never explored)
Growing up, one of the movies I watched most was A Cinderella Story starring Hilary Duff. It was on ABC Family (now Freeform) practically every other week and I’ve always been a sucker for Cinderella. The Disney film of it doesn’t exist to me because the only true Cinderella film is the 1997 one starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. If you feel the same way and would watch A Cinderella Story immediately if you found it on television, then The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back might be something you’d want to read.
Of course, Cinderella isn’t the star. Instead, it’s her stepsister Mattie, a bratty magenta-haired girl as bitter as horseradish for a number of reasons, including how “perfect” her stepsister Ella is. Mattie (full name Matilda) isn’t a likable character and doesn’t try to be likable, but she’s understandable and that matters more. When you have a sibling who’s good at school and a community pillar and all that, it’s entirely natural to feel the way Mattie does. My brother has expressed similar feelings; I’ve always been the smart, angelic one and meanwhile, he only avoided doing seventh grade twice due to a system error and my mom was on a first-name basis with our elementary school principal because of how often my brother got in trouble.
I wasn’t entirely on board with the romance, but if hate-to-love if your jam, Mattie and Jake’s romance will be exactly your thing. It has purposeful echoes of John Hughes films, which are mentioned throughout the book and which the book pays tribute to throughout. Personally, I think his films are overrated and people love them so much due to blind 80s nostalgia and Stockholm Syndrome. BUT WHATEVER.
The downside is how shallow the characters are and how well they could have been fleshed out with more effort. Mattie is a quarter Japanese through her mother, a woman she dislikes so much that she broadly dislikes Japanese culture (sans manga and anime, as she’s in love with the art form and wants to work on them one day). That racial self-loathing is mentioned and then never brought up or examined.
Ella is a sweetheart and standout character, but we don’t get to see her more vulnerable side. She’s essentially the fairy godmother of the story, but she’s a human being too. Mattie’s best friend exists pretty much solely for him to get together with Ella and he’s one of those douches who judges people on their music.
If miracles happened and a film were made out of this book, I’d want ABC Family/Freeform to be the ones behind it. The few TV movies they make and more than a few of the theatrical films they air regularly are usually the same tone as The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back and they’d probably do it justice. Don’t come into this book expecting fully realized characters, but if you want something short and sweet and generally satisfying, you’ll be just fine. You might just find yourself hungry for A Cinderella Story afterward.