Author: Shannon Hale
336 Pages–Ages 9 to 12 (and up!)
Published by: Little Brown Books for Young Readers on August 26, 2014
At Ever After High, everyone is expected to sign the Storybook of Legends, pledging to follow in their fairytale parent’s footsteps. But when Raven Queen came along, things became fairy, fairy confusing. Now no one’s destiny is certain, not even for the most royal of them all, Apple White.
When a mysterious being from Wonderland begins to infect Ever After High with a strange magic, everything goes topsy-turvy. The students transform into animals and objects, palace mice talk, and the beautiful green grounds on campus fade to black-and-white. Lizzie Hearts, Wonderland’s future queen, Cedar Wood, daughter of Pinocchio, and Madeline Hatter, heir to the Mad Hatter’s Hat and Tea Shoppe, seem to be the only ones who haven’t completely lost their heads. It’s up to them to save their best friends forever after from a curse that threatens to give their school-and their lives-a very unhappy ending.
It took a long time for me to pick up this book after the first two. I really enjoyed the first two, but I just couldn’t get the motivation to read this one. Just from reading the teaser I knew it would be quite the departure from the other novels in the series.
Eventually, on a total whim I picked up this book and sat down to read it. I can’t say I’m particularly excited for this one, but I am looking forward to closing out the trilogy and getting some closure on the stories of these characters.
I was a bit skeptical when starting this. Lately, I’ve sort of been losing interest in some of the books I’ve started reading (The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Sage and the Journey to Wishworld, Driven by Emotions, etc.) and I figured this one would be no different. For the first few chapters that actually was true; the story didn’t seem to be progressing much and it was starting to drag a tiny bit. Fortunately, when the world seems to lose all its senses the story starts to get interesting.
My favorite part of this book was by far the characters, particularly Lizzie, daughter of the Queen of Hearts. Lizzie gave off the vibe of a natural leader who is still a little rough around the edges. She’s battling emotions that are practically ubiquitous in youngsters: loneliness, being socially awkward, and inadequacy to her mother’s wishes. She’s a really good character to relate to without making her too sad to read about. She has basically lost her mother and father (they are trapped in Wonderland so she can’t interact with them at all), she is so socially awkward she doesn’t really have any friends, and she’s under so much pressure to be the perfect Wonderland Queen that her mother expects. Yet despite these things she manages to take the lead and the responsibility of fighting the Jabberwocky.
Aside from Lizzie, the other main character, Cedar, was also a great character to read about. Throughout the story my heart really hurt for Cedar. There’s the famous clichéd saying, “it’s better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all,” but in Cedar’s case it must be excruciatingly painful on the psyche to gain life and then lose it just as quickly. The secondary characters, Maddie and Kitty, were also integral to the story. About halfway through the story Maddie becomes the temporary narrator and for about one chapter Kitty becomes one as well. With the narrator being an active part of the story it brings up the interesting question of what these stories actually mean. Maddie seems to be completely aware of the existence of the narrator, making it seem as if the narrator is a character in the story as well. In that case, it can be viewed as if the characters are already living out their stories and the narrator is living out her (or his) story by narrating the current story. Therefore, the characters destinies have already been somewhat broken because they are living out a story before their original stories. Regardless of it all, I don’t know if it’s me coming up with fanciful ideas regarding the property or if it actually means something but it probably will be an exciting no matter what.
While the beginning dragged, I found the middle to be amazing, but the ending turned out to be quite disappointing. The climax of the story was a “clap if you believe in fairies” moment. The narrator (in this case Maddie) blatantly addresses the reader and tells them (or us) to banish the Jabberwocky with our words. The narration technique may be a hit with the much younger child, but it just isn’t really my cup of tea. Not only that, but after the Jabberwocky gets banished the Wonderlandian magic forces everyone, except Mattie, to forget the events of this book. In general, I’m not a fan of the amnesia plot points in media because it makes all the events that happened in the book and between the characters basically irrelevant. Sure, you could use the argument that if it all happened once then it could all happen again. And yes, Cedar gets some lingering Déjà vu and people start opening up to Lizzie, but it all just feels hollow at this point. Even Kitty Cheshire, the resident troublemaker, was getting some character development and then blam! it’s all erased. It’s almost like a giant joke. Shannon Hale has been moving the story of the Ever After High world forward, but it seems Mattel wants to halt the process to continue making webisodes and dolls. So what happens? We get a great story with great character development, but then the reset button is hit. Everyone (excluding Mattie) forgets the whole incident and we’re basically back to the beginning.
The interesting thing about this franchise is that it’s tackling a somewhat serious issue and there actually is a story building. What’s going to happen to Raven and Apple and all the rest of the characters? Following your predetermined destiny is tradition, but what happens when that tradition is broken? Why is headmaster Grimm so insistent they follow their destinies? Is it fear of the unknown or something more sinister? Ever After High as a whole is currently laying the skeleton for the story and is moving at a snail’s pace to its conclusion. Shannon Hale’s books are trying to move the story forward (at least the first 2 were) and it leaves me with the final thought: the more the story is spread out the more buildup there is. Ever After High doesn’t seem to be coming to an end any time soon, so will the buildup cumulate to a worthy ending of the series or a massively anticlimactic conclusion? If I were to guess, I would say the latter.
Overall, Shannon Hale is a great author. I loved her portrayal of the characters and her narration style is wonderful. I would use the line “this is a fresh take on classic fairy tale characters,” but these characters really don’t resemble their classic counterparts. And in this case, I think it’s actually a good thing. As much as I want a massive classic fairy tale crossover, I honestly don’t think it would go over that well. For readers of the first two books I would definitely recommend this, and even for people who are new to the franchise, this is basically a standalone and it’s worth the read.