Sheinmel, Alyssa B. Second Star. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. ISBN 978-0374382674 256 pp. $
In this version of Peter Pan, 17-year old Wendy Darling is on a search for her two brothers, John & Michael, missing and presumed dead. She follows the coast, looking for out of the way beaches with perfect waves in the goes of meeting other surfers who might have encountered her brothers, and is drawn to both Pete, the head of a crew of misfit boys and one lovely Belle, and Jas, a drug dealer who sells “dairy dust.”
Dark, well-paced and gripping.
Willingham, Bill. Peter and Max. Vertigo, 2009. ISBN 978-1401215736 400 pp. $22.99
Ordinarily, I love fractured fairy tales, and this inventive retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin set in an established fairy tale world on the edge of our own is intriguing in concept but fell flat in execution for me. The tale provides the backstory of the Piper family, juxtaposed with a modern day sibling rivalry.
First, a disclaimer: I haven’t read Fables, so my first impression was, what a silly, obvious name. It didn’t feel terribly inventive (Cinderella owns a shoe shop? really?). I DID like the clever allusions to other folk tales. Chapter epithets like in which Peter puts his wife “in a pumpkin” tickled my fancy. The writing was nothing notable and I disliked the art work, although the cover was engaging. Why wasn’t this simply a graphic novel?
Viguié, Debbie. Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of The Little Mermaid. Simon Pulse, 2006 (reprint). ISBN 978-1416940166 208 pp. $7.99
Very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid,” Midnight Pearls is the story of a girl found on a beach, taken in by a fisherman and his wife and claimed as their own. Truly a fish out of water, pale-skinned Pearl with her powers of premonition has few friends, except for Prince James, with whom she developed a friendship as a young girl. Just when she thinks they will marry, mermaid Faye (who has sold her voice to the sea-witch for the chance to go ashore and rescue Pearl, who is her brother’s intended) shows up and steals the Prince’s heart.
Following the same formula as in another book in this series, readers are led to believe that romance is brewing, when in fact, the boy who is closest to the girl turns out to be merely a brotherly figure, and true love strikes fast and furious with someone else. It worked in Tracy Lynn’s Snow (Simon & Schuster, 2002), it doesn’t work so well here, perhaps because of the introduction of a third party: Robert, who wants to destroy Prince James’s kingdom. Other problems include lack of character development, uneven pacing, and overly dramatic dialogue.
Save your money, and for lush, complex fairy tale retellings, try Donna Jo Napoli or Robin McKinley.
Lynn, Tracy. Snow: A Retelling of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Simon Pulse, 2006 (reprint). ISBN 978-1416940159 272 pp. $7.99
Once upon a time, there was a reviewer who loved fairy tales. She discovered a luminous retelling of Snow White complete with a stepmothers jealous vanity, kindly yet isolated miners, and a deathlike sleep, and, after giving the book five stars, lived happily ever after.
When a duke’s wife dies during the birthing of their long awaited child, the motherless darling grows up in the kitchens until her father remarriage (coinciding with her puberty). The duke’s new wife takes the tomboyish Jessica under her wing to become a lady. Desperate to both remain youthful and have a babe of her own, the vain yet intelligent stepmother practices many foul experiments, trading her patronage for the help of Alan, a hired violist. When the mad woman decides the heart of her stepdaughter will bring her heart’s desire, Alan helps Jessica escape to the city, where she meets bizarre creatures of the night who hire her as their maid and caretaker. As one would expect, the evil stepmother discovers her rival is still alive, and seeks her out, eventually spelling her into a long deep sleep that only the famed clockmaker can bring her out of.
The tale is embellished with a bewitched character who lends personification to the mirror, and a turn-of-the-century English setting almost makes the story believable as a historical event that evolved to legend and finally to fairy tale status. The short chapters offer a variety of viewpoints without confusing the reader, and although we know the basic plot elements and the outcome, how Lynn gets there is a bit mysterious from the prologue, which takes place partway through the story. The role of the prince is filled unexpectedly, the explanation of the mirror brilliant, and the industrial revolution and the role of women in society season the plot.
With all her alterations, Lynn remains true to the underlying message that youth is fleeting but true inner beauty is forever (and more desirable), and adds one of her own, culled from Arthurian legend: the key to a woman’s heart is giving her freedom of choice. Superbly done.
Fearnley, Jan. Mr. Wolf and the Three Bears. Harcourt, 2002. ISBN 978-0152164232 32 pp. $
Mr. Wolf throws a birthday bash for Baby Bear and Goldilocks crashes the party as the world’s rudest guest. Poor ignorant Goldilocks is dealt a surprisingly macabre punishment for a children’s story.
This is a fractured fairy tale in the tradition of Grimm’s originals: a moral lesson is taught through violence. While older students will appreciate the sly humor, this is story that could scare the daylights out of some preschoolers. Primary colors and cuddly creatures suggest a toddler audience, while the plot and theme are more appropriate for early elementary school students. The tea party recipes are a charming addition, but too cutesy for the startling ending. Teachers may find the story useful for a unit on fractured fairy tales, but this one is so broken, best to proceed with caution.
Datlow, Ellen. A Wolf at the Door: And Other Retold Fairy Tales. Aladdin, 2001. ISBN 978-0689821394 166 pp. $
Datlow and Windling (authors of several books in a fairy tale retellings series that includes Briar Rose by Jane Yolen) present a balanced blend of familiar and more obscure tales and well-known and first-time authors along with recommendations for resources about fairy tales and good collections of stories. Although their introduction is a perfect lead-in to Neil Gaiman’s poem “Instructions” (a set of directions for how-to survive in fairyland with lessons gleaned from favorite tales), his gem of a poem is relegated to the middle of the book. Jane Yolen’s “Cinder Elephant” isn’t petite but she is the one the prince falls for in a sharp and witty tale that blasts Walt Disney. Gregory MacGuire presents the seven unique voices of seven determined dwarves in a mission to get their Snow White back. Other highlights include a version of Jack and the Beanstalk from the point of view of the giant’s wife, and Patricia McKillip’s lovely retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”
A nice addition is the brief author bio at the end of each story, along with a explanation or some remarks about fairy tales. The collection itself is a bit uneven. One author unsuccessfully weaves two unfamiliar tales together, and the ugly duckling story is a bit of a stretch and has a pat ending. And why were Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine, two popular fairy tale retellers, omitted?
The cover, with neon green lettering and a haunting wolf, will leap into reader’s hands, but may disappoint horror fans who grab it and aren’t expecting fairy tales. Teens will enjoy these stories where the heroes use the Internet, read Avi books and Sandman comics, wear Doc Martens, drink Coke, and are lured by Playstation game consoles.