For my Young Adult book club this month, we read Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, which you can guess by the cover and the title is based on the much beloved, horse beaten story line that is Cinderella. I didn’t mind the book, which is a mild way of saying I didn’t really like it but was fine in its existence in YA section overall. To give you a better idea, my scale range is from “Ye Gods! Thank you for this gift! We are not worthy!” which is the Harry Potter series, to “God, I hope my kids don’t realize that I grew up when Twilight was big.” Which includes all versions of Twilight from Twilight One to Twilight Four, Revenge of the Twilight — or whatever it’s called. Cinder hits middle.
I blame the current YA market, which is inundated with these futuristic post-apocalyptic stories of a girl saving the world. More power to those heroines and the audience, but like Harry Potter in its heyday, the shelves in the YA section feel more like I’m scrolling through fanfiction archives, rather than reading anything new.
Cinder, unfortunately, is out at a time when Matched, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Delirium are out and up for comparison. Don’t get me wrong, the market made it possible for each of these wonderful books to get out there — much in the same way that diaries became the YA craze when Princess Diaries came out. But Cinder suffers because I as a reader have really subscribed to the YA market, so I as a reader am getting slowly burnt out by it.
These stories follow a heroine with too much responsibility than any sixteen-year-old should have. She usually has a younger sibling or some warm feelings of responsibility to her family, though she might not straight up hang out with them. She’s also emotionally detached — Cinder especially because you can’t get more detached than a teenage cyborg. Yeah, Cinderella is a cyborg in a not too distant future in a place called New Beijing. It sounds interesting but it really is just a different bit coloring on these heroines. By which I mean, “these heroines” who are more underdog because of circumstance but have a super special secret skill that make them anything but. “These heroines” who really can’t figure out emotions because feelings for siblings or the overwhelming responsibility of the world or life as they know it can be too much.
She can also be some sort of secret weapon. In Katniss’s case she was propaganda. In Cinder’s case, she’s (SPOILER AHEAD, though if you even read the synopsis you could guess it) a lost princess that can end a war.
These books individually are wonderful, and it’s really the market’s fault for saturating the reader with these books. We ride these trends like highs, until after awhile, the same hit won’t do it anymore. Then we’re onto the next big thing. It’s probably robots. It’s always robots.
I don’t mean to take Cinder apart in effigy, but I almost wanted Cinder to just be better than it was. I also think that borrowing from a fairy tale didn’t help either.
Cinder is the first of the Lunar Chronicles series, which follows a different girl, each made to be a different fairy tale. The next is Scarlet after Little Red Riding Hood. The third if Cress after Rapunzel. I’m a fairy tale and folklore kind of gal myself, and I really did enjoy the juxtaposition of the future meets age-old story. It just hit too close to its origins, and the fairy tale packaging seems more of a marketing way to get us to read the rest of the series.
Next to Shakespeare’s “Rome and Juliet,” which is technically already a knock-off of Heloise and Abelard, I don’t think that there is any other fictional trope copied so much. We love a good Cinderella story — in headlines and in our literature — and YA has tons of it too! From Cameron Dokey’s Before Midnight to Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, we’re well aware of the many ways YA could turn a basic “Once Upon a Time” into a novel.
There’s a lot of material we can compare it to, and I’m almost sorry for it if only because it doesn’t allow Cinder to shine as an unusual Sci-Fi YA book.
Maybe the fairy tale element, the Sci-Fi, the apocalyptic, and the unemotional heroine — though, granted she falters and feels things that are outside of her sister — are just so formulaic. The foot, the Prince, the step sisters while all of it worked on one level and pleased me for knowing the fairy tale so well, but it felt forced. I think it would’ve been amazing if she took that idea of Cinderella and started from there, then morphed it into something I couldn’t even begin to trace back to its origins.
Past those elements, I think the world itself Meyer created needed a little more filling. I understand that she wrote this as a NANOWRIMO novel though, so I am impressed at how much world building she did accomplish. I just thought the history needed more refining because I easily drilled holes in the timeline.
The NANOWRIMO aspect also gives more of a reason for using Cinderella and Sailor Moon as inspiration, which I found out later on. It might also answer as to why the “reveal” was almost disappointing. The shape of the plot was imbalanced. But considering she wrote it in a month, I’m seriously impressed.
The writing was strong for YA. Side characters were fleshed out, rather than being stock ones. The relationship with Cinder and the Prince was every bit as awkward as teenage locker run ins would be. But there was definitely something missing. I hope the rest of the series looks up from there.