Why I read it: I saw the movie many years ago, and because I love fairy tale retellings, I figured it was time for me to read it.
Summary (from Goodreads): At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the "gift" of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: "Instead of making me docile, Lucinda's curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally." When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella's life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you'll ever read.
Gail Carson Levine's examination of traditional female roles in fairy tales takes some satisfying twists and deviations from the original. Ella is bound by obedience against her will, and takes matters in her own hands with ambition and verve. Her relationship with the prince is balanced and based on humor and mutual respect; in fact, it is she who ultimately rescues him. Ella Enchanted has won many well-deserved awards, including a Newbery Honor.
I was really looking forward to this book, because I read so many good reviews of it, plus I love fairy tale retellings. However, while I loved the concept and the characters, the execution was not the greatest.
I loved the character of Ella. She was cursed with the "gift" of obedience, but at the same time, still had her own agency and was independent. I loved how she fell in love slowly with the prince and there was no "instalove" which is one of my huge pet peeves. I even liked the minor characters. At first, I was worried that the stepmother and stepsisters were really one dimensional, and in many ways they were, but they had underlying insecurities. I noticed this particularly with Olive, the youngest stepsister, who feels lonely and while she is greedy and wants money, she also wants someone to listen to her. I thought all of the characters were interesting, and I think this is the highlight of the book.
However, the execution, particularly the pacing and some plot details were confusing to me. I felt that the book jumped around in little episodes and the pacing was not as fluid as it could have been. I also felt some elements in the plot came out of nowhere, like the boarding school and the magical book that Ella's fairy godmother gives her. I felt that the boarding school didn't really add anything to the plot, except giving her a best friend, Areida, who is sadly lacking in the rest of the book. The magical book was a little creepy, and seemed to be as a crutch to move the plot forward.
I also felt the resolution, where Ella is able to stop being obedient, while it did show that Ella had the power all along, it was also fueled by the prince, which seemed a little bit like a cop out to me.
Overall, I was a little disappointed with the execution, but I did like how the author used the traditional Cinderella tale and turned it upside down. Ella was obedient, but she struggled against it and had to find her own way to crush this obedience.