At birth, Ella of Frell, has a reckless gift bestowed
upon her by a fairy named Lucinda. The gift requires that Ella obey any command,
regardless of the consequences. As Ella grows older and realizes the impact of
this gift, she learns ways to delay her obedience or follow the command literally, causing
frustration and confusion but ultimately she must obey. “Instead
of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally” (Levine).
Ella’s world is becoming complicated. Her mother dies suddenly when
Ella is fifteen. Her self absorbed father sends her away to finishing school
so that she might learn to “walk like the slip of the thing you are and not like a small elephant,” but Ella has
other ideas and doesn’t want to be finished (Levine). Although successful
at languages and other finishing school subjects, her soon-to-be stepsister makes her life miserable having discerned Ella’s
weakness for following orders. Ella is determined to take matters into her own
hands, find the fairy Lucinda, and take back her life!
On her quest, Ella becomes friendly with elves and fends off dangerous ogres using her penchant for language and her
wits. Upon locating Lucinda, she is unsuccessful is releasing herself from the
curse. She returns home and falls in love with Prince Charmont, who is destined
to become king. The Prince writes to Ella and expresses his love. He loves her voice, her intelligence, her charm, her courage, her kindness, her beauty, and her grace.
Realizing the danger her marriage to the Prince could inflict on the kingdom and the Prince, Ella denies her love for
the prince. She can’t resist one last encounter with him and attends a
ball designed to find a suitable match for the prince. With the help of a fairy
godmother, pumpkin coach, beautiful gown, and glass slippers, Ella connects with the prince and with her courage of conviction
and strength, she takes on her curse and overcomes its restraints. Of course,
she weds the prince and lives happily ever after.
This wonderful fantasy spin-off of Cinderella, introduces a refreshing heroine.
Ella contradicts the stereotype with her take-charge, feisty, intelligence. She
flies in the face of convention and controls her own destiny and doesn’t wait to be rescued but becomes the rescuer! Rather than helpless and needy, Ella’s relationship with the prince is based
on mutual respect and humor. Ilene Cooper of Booklist says, “Ella’s
story both neatly incorporates elements of the original tale and mightily expands them, not only with the myriad consequences
of the curse but also with a heroine so spirited that she wins readers’ hearts.”
Levine’s first novel, a Newbery Honor book in 1998, is a funny and refreshing twist on a favorite fairytale
from the past with elements to inspire the present. Ella’s character and
that of the prince are encouraging to both boys and girls, men and women, due to their ability to step out of character and
act with kindness, thoughtfulness, courage, and respect.