Baryon, Kaylynn. Cinderella is Dead. Bloomsbury YA. 2020. 416 pg. $8.11. PB. 9781547606641
In Lille, the annual ball has been a tradition ever since Cinderella met her prince at the first one. Generations later, her story has become one all girls are supposed to memorize and emulate, aspiring to find their husband when they first attend at 16, but Sophia would rather skip the ball and run off with her best friend/girlfriend Erin. Erin, on the other hand, is determined to follow tradition. When a confrontation at the ball forces Sophia to flee, she happens upon Cinderella’s tomb, where she meets Constance, a descendent of one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. After Sophia is disowned by her parents for disgracing them by her actions at the ball, she and Constance work together to discover the secrets behind Cinderella’s story.
Adaptations of fairy tales are fascinating for what they tell us about a culture at the time of their writing. While this isn’t the first retelling of Cinderella to imagine the heroine having a better relationship with her family, the interracial lesbian relationships (Sophia is described in ways that indicate she’s Black and shown as such on the book’s cover, while Constance and Erin are white) are a rarer update, providing refreshing representation. It’s also the first adaptation I’ve read that sets the plot after the events of Cinderella’s story have taken place, and not just the immediate aftermath–centuries after her death.
The timeline change allows for an almost dystopian portrayal of a society that idolizes a person, and one aspect of the story, to the extent that it becomes toxic. Bayron doesn’t spare us from the misogyny and abuse that’s become inherent in Lille’s culture, or the damage done to young girls and women by requiring them to emulate Cinderella. She also doesn’t hesitate to turn other fairy tale archetypes on their head as well; fairy godmothers have their own motivations, and heroes aren’t always as heroic as they seem.
The end result is a girl-power story that encourages reflection on and questioning of stories, whether fiction or not. Combined with a villain that’s so vile you’re cheering when they’re defeated, and you have an enjoyable story that’s even better on reread when the foreshadowing becomes even more clear. It’s targeted towards young adults, and I would have loved it when I was in that age range, but the young-at-heart can enjoy it as well.