In the first and second chapters of Ella Enchanted, Y’ALL ARE NOT OKAY. TWO CHAPTERS IN, AND EVERYTHING HURTS. MUST YOU ALWAYS DO THIS TO ME? If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to start Ella Enchanted.
Before we begin, WELCOME EVERYONE. If you’re returning, WELCOME BACK. If this is your first time on Mark Reads (as there are inevitably new folks who join whenever I start a new book), WELCOME TO YOU, TOO. I thought I’d let y’all know about a few rules before we begin properly.
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Chapter One / Chapter Two
This book gets sad IN THE FIRST CHAPTER. What have y’all done to me?
Like quite a few books I’ve done for this site, I came into Ella Enchanted with virtually no knowledge of anything other than the movie adaptation that no one likes. That’s it. I know that exists and… nothing else?
SO YEAH. I WAS SURPRISED BY THE FIRST CHAPTER.
Ella Enchanted opens as a lot of fairy tales and fantasies do. It’s a first-person narrative, but it’s not long before I began to suspect something else was going on: Ella was very aware of the world around her, of the power dynamics at hand, and of the difficulties that she faces. Because there is no way to look at that cake eating scene as anything but a difficulty and a horror show and HOW IS THIS ALREADY HAPPENING IN THE BEGINNING OF THIS BOOK? Ella’s fairy cursed her with an unwavering, physically-demanding need to FULFILL EVERY COMMAND SHE IS GIVEN. It’s terrifying!
So I love that, within just a few pages of the introduction of this character and her curse, Gail Carson Levine does something extremely satisfying: she makes Ella a rebel. Despite that Ella physically suffers from any resistance she exhibits when she’s given an order, she still finds a way to be difficult. Justifiably difficult, I should say. Mandy and Eleanor know of Ella’s condition, and they still use commands to get Ella to obey them. Given that I come from a family with strict parents who expected my obedience at every turn, I can deeply relate with Ella’s desire to resist. (Seriously, do y’all just recommend I read things that will crush my heart and soul every second? Is that all I am here for? Of course it is.)
It wasn’t until we got to Pamela (and the way she purposely exploited Ella’s curse) that I sensed that this book would not be any sort of traditional fairy tale. Pamela is much more egregious than Mandy is about Ella’s obedience, and it was disturbing to see how quickly Pamela turned against her friend after she’d been confided in! And then Ella is punching faces and Eleanor is demanding that Ella never tell her secret to anyone and this is not even the most upsetting thing in chapter one. No, that comes next when ELLA’S MOTHER GETS EXTREMELY SICK AND DIES AFTER ELLA BEGS FOR HER MOTHER TO GET BETTER. IN THE FIRST CHAPTER.
Y’all did this to me. YOU DID THIS TO ME.
Chapter two is, simply put, unreal. It’s even more strange to me given that we came off of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, where I spoke a lot about death and grief, and now Ella is openly suffering over the loss of her mother. (Wait, no: Not lost. Gone.) That wasn’t the main thing I took away from this, though:
Ella’s father is a grade A jerk. Of the highest degree. The literal worst.
I caught on to his absence in the first chapter, but that comes to a head here when he’s forced to be in Ella’s presence and we learn how detached and uncaring he is to her. When she has a massive breakdown in front of her mother’s coffin, Ella is then ordered to leave by her father until she can be quiet. Because somehow, grieving her mother is terrible? I ALREADY HATE THIS MAN. I don’t like him. Again, this makes the book feel less and less like a fairy tale because Levine is so willing to toy with our expectations for a story like this. Everything is pain and sadness and not fair. 🙁
BUT ALAS! THERE IS PRINCE CHAR. Who is really nice and liked Ella’s mother and he’s sitting there, in direct contrast to Ella’s father, and I can’t help but appreciate him? Well, I’m also biased; I enjoyed trying to find joy and humor in memories of my father after he died, and his wake here in the States was largely about how often my brother, my mom, and I could make each other laugh.
Ugh, I don’t like her father. I DON’T, AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.
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