Cinders / Charming, by Mette Bach

Bach, Mette. Cinders and Charming. James Lorimer & Company Ltd. 2018. $8.99 each. 166/175p. PB. 

As I said in one of my more recent reviews, I am a big fan of fairy tale retellings. And while I typically prefer less well-known tales, I was nonetheless excited to receive Cinders and Charming by Mette Bach. While Cinderella is by no means a “lesser-known” fairy tale, Bach’s reimagining of our leading lady as a tech-savvy modern teen out to better the world and Charming as the latest viral video it-girl sounded intriguing.

Ashley Caldwell – Ash for short – is living with her stepfather, Ted, and his two children after the death of her mother. While Ted doesn’t seem to be a bad guy, he makes it clear early on he’d rather not know what’s going on in his children’s lives. This hands-off approach to parenting spells disaster for Ash, who quickly finds herself doing all the chores, taking care of her stepbrother’s homework, and being mercilessly bullied by her stepsister. It’s no surprise, then, that she focuses all of her spare time on creating an app to support victims of bullying like herself.

Enter Char Gill, musician and song-writer extraordinaire whose latest video uploads have been blowing up – and not just with positive feedback. When Char sees an anti-bullying app advertised on her homeroom’s whiteboard, she’s quickly drawn in by the promise of a safe space as well as the support of an admin known as Cinders. Soon enough, sparks are flying between Char and Cinders (Ash’s online pseudonym). But can their budding romance survive in the real world, where the two girls seem to exist in completely different spheres?

If I’m being honest, I’m really not a fan of companion novels of this sort; if you insist on telling me the same story from two perspectives, I’d prefer to read it all in one book. So it’s possible these titles were doomed to fall short for me from the start. In addition to this issue, however, the books could have used a more thorough copy edit, as Bach’s writing often came across as stiff and repetitive. That being said, I think the overall message of these two titles – that being bullied is survivable – is an important one for teens; I just wish a resource list had been included, to help teens suffering through bullying find real-life support.

Despite my issues with these titles, teen fans of fairytale retellings who’ve found the current offerings a bit out of reach may enjoy these hi/lo offerings from Mette Bach.

Kaitlin Frick, New York Public Library

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