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Nostalgic Reads: Is Ella Really That Enchanted?

There are books you read in school, the books you’re gifted, and the ones you discover on your own. Some books touch us in ways we couldn’t imagine, influence us without realizing it, and alter us forever. I know I have quite a few of those, and I started to wonder, would they live up to the memory I have of them? So, I decided I’m going to revisit some of my favorite books I read growing up that inspired me to be a voracious reader.

First book I’m putting up to the challenge, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

*Spoiler Alert* I try not to say anything too specific below, but if you haven't read Ella Enchanted and you're good at predicting things, you might spoil some plot points by reading further.

On with the show!

I took a closer look at my copy and I realized there’s no description on the back and there’s no barcode. Curious. I must have either bought this version through the scholastic book catalog while I was in elementary school or from one of the mobile book fairs. I have a very fuzzy memory of reading a blurb in one of the paper thin catalog and that’s what hooked me.

In short, this novel is a retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. And before it was popular to say, this one has a twist. Ella is given gift a “gift” from a fairy godmother to be obedient, and you guessed it, boy does that go over well. But in all seriousness, there are a few very serious anxiety-inducing moments in this book. The consequences of this curse are catastrophic if Ella were to fall into the wrong hands and they discover she has this curse, because if given an order—she has no choice but to follow it.

As I sat down to read, I felt like I was traveling back in time as I turned each page. Ella was really witty and was very clever—probably from trying to find loopholes from obeying her curse all the time (if that’s not a metaphor for avoiding adult responsibilities, I don’t know what is). I was remembering how I felt during my first read and having those same feelings occur all over again. When her step-siblings were introduced, I felt even more disgusted. And when her friend appeared, I relished that Ella finally had a confidante.

What was really wonderful about revisiting this book, was rediscovering scenes I didn’t remember and kind of experiencing them for the first time again. The most notable time that happened was Char’s final letter to Ella and the rush of emotion reading the words he wrote to her—what a great scene! I’m so glad the thrill of it was the same so many years later.

Something really interesting that I noticed as I progressed through the chapters, was the immense amount time that’s covered. From birth to her adulthood, but the majority of the book takes place when she’s almost 15 to about 17 years old. I point it out because even though there’s gaps of time, as the reader, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Levine knew exactly when to check-in and drop some information to progress the plot and develop the characters. It’s a fascinating writing tactic to study, especially as I’m in the middle of revising my own middle grade novel and I’m deciding what’s important, and what doesn’t serve the story or the reader.

So, does it hold up to the nostalgia I have for it?

Yes, yes, a million times, yes! I had such a good time rereading this book and it brought me so much happiness all over again. Because it’s written as a fairy tale, that gives the novel a timeless quality to it. It doesn’t matter which era it’s read in, the humor’s still relevant and heroine we find in Ella is still empowering because of her circumstances she fights to overcome. Anyone can find kinship with her and want to root for her (and in a way, end up rooting for themselves).

So, if you love twists on fairy tales and haven’t already Ella Enchanted (or haven’t read it in awhile), I encourage you to pick up a copy or borrow it from the library.

It’s truly an enchanting read.

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