Most underrated book
So sometimes when I recommend this book at the library, they're like, "Yeah, I've seen the movie. It was funny but kinda hokey." Yes. The book is neither funny nor hokey. It's a serious fairy tale, and it has to be my very favorite version of the Cinderella story that's out there.
Basically, the premise is: the fairy Lucinda gives Ella the "gift" of obedience - what really becomes a curse, where Ella MUST do whatever anyone asks of her. This clears up one of the most confusing points of the traditional Cinderella tale for me - why was Cinderella acting like a slave for her step-family? Her father was nobility, which means that even though her mother died and her father remarried, she still has the same Dad and there wasn't really ever a clear reason why Cinderella became a servant. I guess you could argue that after her father died, the cruelty of her step mother and sisters would have forced her to servitude, but that still is a bit weak to me. I mean, didn't they have neighbors? People who knew who Cinderella's Dad was? I don't think society would have accepted what her step family had done. In reality, I think Cinderella would have become an annoying burden to them, and probably they would have shipped her off to a boarding school to be rid of her. Think Jane Eyre.
Anyway, that always seemed weak. So the fact that Ella has this "curse" is something that her unkind step sisters exploit until Ella is practically a servant in this book. This is so much easier for me to understand. So now that the premise is more believable, Ella manages to have a few adventures, meet a prince, and the bulk of their relationship takes place before the ball. That was another thing that I appreciated about this book, it wasn't just she meets the prince and -bam!- love fest.
So this is a great story and my personal favorite version of Cinderella. I always think it's a shame when I try to recommend it to some Shannon-Hale-loving person, and they pass on it because the movie was kind of silly and weird. Oh well.