Fairest
Gail Carson Levine

Morality: B+
Writing: B

In this truly charming novel, Gail Carson Levine treats another traditional fairy tale with her own very unique spin. Here, young Aza is most certainly not the fairest of them all . . . in fact, she’s remarkably plain, and large to boot. But she has a remarkably beautiful singing voice — and in the country where she lives, singing is prized above all other arts. It draws the community together, heals the sick, and expresses the deepest feelings of the heart. So when the vain, petulant young woman Ivi — who happens to have a very low-quality singing voice — marries the king of the land, she quickly decides that Aza must sing for her . . . and she knows how to use blackmail to get what she wants.

Levine’s take on “Snow White” is very far from the traditional tale — yet, just as she did with Ella Enchanted, she manages to bring in the most famous elements of the story into a plot all of her own making. There are many things I loved about this book, which I read in one afternoon (to be honest, I couldn’t put it down . . . ). I liked the strong characters, particularly Aza, the narrator of the story, who felt very authentic. I liked the honest depiction of a good-hearted heroine who struggles with self-image; it strikes a fine balance between syrupy and bitter, as Aza struggles to accept her appearance as she is. I liked the portrayal of the villainess, Ivi, who is not your typical wicked queen figure — her evil behavior stems from a startlingly immature desire to look good in front of a crowd; usually she’s just frivolous, petulant, and all-around adolescent in her behavior. And, of course, I liked the way that Aza’s true love truly thinks she is beautiful and loves her as she is . . . oh, wait, did I ruin it for you? The message — love and honesty always overcome vanity and deceit in the end — is, like in her previous novel, simple but no less valuable for all that. I liked it.

But why, oh why, does Levine have to be so horrible at creating invented languages? Alas. Oh well.

Posted by Sasha | April 20, 2007

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