Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review: Just Ella - Margaret Peterson Haddix

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Series: The Palace Chronicles #1
Genre: YA, fairy tale retelling
Published on August 1, 2001
Published by Simon & Schuster
Pages: 185
Read From: 5.17.15 - 5.21.15

"Princess, nobody can stop those rumors. People would rather believe in fairy godmothers. . . .than think that you took charge of your own destiny." 

Like every commoner in the land, Ella dreams of going to the ball and marrying Prince Charming. But after she is chosen to marry the prince, life with the royal family is not the "happily ever after" that Ella imagined. Pitiless and cold, the royals try to mold her into their vision of a princess. Ella's life becomes a meaningless schedule of protocol, which she fears she will never grasp. And Prince Charming's beautiful face hides a vacant soul. 

Even as her life turns to misery, the stories persist that Ella's fairy godmother sent her to the ball: How else could the poor girl wear a beautiful gown, arrive in a coach, and dance in those glass slippers? But there is no fairy godmother to help Ella escape the deadening life of the castle. Can she do it on her own?


Dear Just Ella,

You aren’t a new read for me; I picked you up eons ago when I was still a kid and new to the fairy tale retelling genre. My memories of you were fond and with the release of your third installment, I looked forward to revisiting your story. Just Ella, you were a trip down memory lane for sure, but mostly a lane full of holes.

You tell what happened after Ella got her Prince Charming. Everyone knows the story: a young girl forced to act as a servant to her stepmother and two evil stepsisters. A fairy godmother who swoops in to save the day. A magical ball where Cinderella meets the love of her life. A glass slipper, an impossible proposal, and happily ever after. But that isn’t how Ella remembers it. Ella’s story is quite different - and totally bereft of magic. And being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Her tutors and ladies in waiting only see her as an ignorant peasant, she’s not allowed to do anything useful or for herself, and she’s discovering that her Prince Charming is perhaps the most boring person she has ever known. The wedding is looming closer and Ella needs to do something fast - or be stuck in an unhappily ever after for, well, ever. But there’s more going on behind this match than she realizes.

I remembered liking Ella and I was pleased to discover that I still do. She’s clever and resourceful. Her willful blindness to Prince Charming’s cardboard personality got a little old, but I could understand at the same time. That ball was one magical, beautiful moment. She worked hard to get where she is now; all she wants is for it to be true. But even Ella realizes in time that she can’t turn a blind eye to the truth, and once she decides enough is enough, she takes action. Just. . . .her method isn’t perhaps the most clever of methods. Prince Charming is as dull and basic as his name implies: outward imperfect - absolutely nothing between the ears. He’s supposed to be like that, so I found it mostly amusing. And then there’s Jed - Ella’s religion and history tutor. Jed is exactly how I remember him being: kind and passionate. Really, all of your characters are how I remember them being. But here’s the funny thing about memory: I also recall them being in the story more. Jed is hardly there at all, and yet I recall him with such deep fondness; like a character that had been present for the majority of the book. In reality, none of the characters were in you enough, Just Ella. They have so much potential that is only hinted at, like a teasing taste of a delectable dessert.

The same goes for your plot. Ella’s “what really happened” narration is thoroughly enjoyable and clever. And the underlying plot with the two warring kingdoms and something possibly sinister going on with her marriage to Prince Charming - all very well done. The climax even takes on a very sinister turn that isn’t often associated with Cinderella. But there could have been so much more - indeed, I remember with perfect clarity a lot of other things happening that actually didn’t. It almost makes me wonder if I read a different edition as a kid. We only get to meet Ella’s stepmother for the briefest of moments at the end and it wasn’t nearly enough - especially when so much more was hinted at.

That’s what you are, Just Ella: a big tease. I enjoyed you and Jed will always be ranked as one of my favorite male characters. But you were not nearly long enough. Everything felt like a glimpse - a trailer - to a much bigger story and world and characters. I was left craving so much more, and I’m not given it.

Feeling unsatisfied,

~ Mara A. ~

Others in The Palace Chronicles:
1)Just Ella
2)Palace of Mirrors
3)Palace of Lies


  1. It's interesting how memory can expand on small parts and characters, isn't it? But I'm glad it was still mostly enjoyable for you. I remember it being a classic, quick lower middle grade that definitely could have been longer.

    1. Isn't it? I remember a whole lot more happening - and the ending being different, actually. I remember Jed betraying her and their relationship ending where she slowly regained her trust in him. That is the one flaw I generally find in lower MG books: they have a great concept that needs to be used in a longer book.


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