Here's another monster book for middle-grade readers! Cinderskella is the first book in the "Scarily Ever Laughter" series by Amie and Bethanie Borst. Amie kindly sent me a copy to read and review since it looks like it might appeal to readers of the Werewolf Max series.
Cinderskella is a fast-paced, fun, and engaging read that I think would appeal mostly to girls between 10 and 15 years old. As you might guess from the title and cover art, it's a funny and creepy twist on the classic Cinderella story.
The story starts out with the main character, Cindy, at school trying to show off for her crush, Ethan. She's awkward and funny, totally bombing it, and ends up giving him a bloody nose for all her efforts.
It changes quickly into a more sombre mood as she's called home when her mother, who has been sick, is taking a turn for the worst and is dying.
Cindy makes it home on time. But as her mother is dying, she puts a spell on Cindy which makes her turn into a skeleton every night.
Cindy mourns for her mother while trying to figure out why she's been cursed to transform into a skeleton. Her father seems to be disgusted by her new form (can you really blame him?) but Cindy learns to appreciate the benefits of being all bones after sunset. She makes up funny bone-related jokes. She sneaks out to spook her grumpy neighbor. And best of all, in her nighttime form she can go to the graveyard and visit her mother in the underworld.
The living are not allowed in the underworld, though. So Cindy has to leave before sunrise every day. If she doesn't, she won't turn into flesh again and have to stay forever.
Meanwhile, Cindy's father remarries a woman with two daughters and Cindy is getting ready to go back to school, just in time for the spring dance. Cindy's stepmother starts laying down some rules, though. Cindy may only attend the dance if she completes a list of weird chores first. (You can see where this is going, right?)
Cindy doesn't like the chores, which seem borderline cruel and involve cleaning her mother's room and eating disgusting food for dinner, but she does them.
In an interesting twist, the chores end up being a spell which breaks the skeleton curse for a few hours so Cindy gets to go to the spring dance after all.
She dances with Ethan (of course) and has a great time. But when the clock strikes nine (because what middle school dance goes until midnight?) the spell starts to wear off. Cindy runs away from Ethan to keep from being discovered as a skeleton. But just outside the school she gets her foot wedged under a boulder somehow and her whole foot pops off.
She manages to escape, sans foot, and get home. But if she doesn't get her foot back by morning, she won't ever be able to get it back.
The whole family is freaking out and trying to find Cindy's foot, but it went missing. Just when they think things can't get worse, there's a knock at the door. It's Ethan!
I'm pretty sure you guys can see where the story goes from there. So, here's my take on it.
This cover is awesome. I love the colors, the layout, the gross and creepy elements, the skeleton rat, the mysterious stranger, the eyeballs in the grass. Everything about this cover art screams, "wacky Halloween party!" and it totally works.
While feeling familiar, the storyline of Cinderskella still takes some unexpected twists and turns. I love that the "wicked stepmother" turns out not to be so wicked after all. And the "ugly stepsisters" are actually sweet girls who befriend Cindy, even though she is unjustly rude to them in the beginning. There are also little breaks in the story where "Cindy" says "Time out!" and interjects a small commentary to the reader, usually something funny.
I found myself wanting to keep turning the pages to find out what happened. There was scarcely a dull moment in the whole book.
While the story was engaging, funny, and fast-paced, there are a few things that I think would make it even better.
You know how you get to the end of an awesome television series and think, "Wow, what a ride! I wish there was more!" But then you start to think about it and wonder, "wait, what about this? They never answered that question! And who was that one guy? And how did that happen? And this part of the show didn't make sense!" (I'm looking at you Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer!)
Well, this book is kinda full of those. I'll explain a few here. But I will also add that, as you're reading it, you don't really notice most of these things.
In the first chapter, Cindy is one-hundred-percent focused on impressing her crush, Ethan. He seems uninterested and she's set on getting him to notice her. In the very next chapter, though, we learn that Cindy's mother is deathly ill. I would expect her to at least think about her mom once or twice while she's considering ways to woo the cute boy next to her.
When Cindy visits the land of the dead, there seems to be some hidden menace there, some kind of threat hanging over her head if she gets caught. They do say that if she stays after sunrise, she'll be stuck there. And if she lets on that she's still alive, The Undertaker (ruler of the underworld) will catch her. But there's something more, the eyeballs that watch her as she walks. The mysterious trail that she starts to walk down when she's alone. The ticket-taker who seems to be decomposing more every day. Her mother's shifting eyes and too-innocent answers to questions. But when The Undertaker does end up catching her, all he does is give her a visitor's pass to come back whenever she likes. ???
When Cindy's father re-marries (a few days after his wife dies?) Cindy has no idea who this lady is. She seems to be a total stranger. But later in the book we learn that she was her mother's best friend. I had to question how this was possible. How did Cindy not know this lady? And honestly... how did her dad end up marrying her so soon after Cindy's mom died? Was there some kind of history there? It's a kids book, so maybe I shouldn't question it too much.
The last time Cindy visits her mom in the underworld, her mother tells her that the curse will end on its own after that night. So Cindy won't be able to visit anymore. But after the ball, Cindy does turn into a skeleton again. And she vows to use her visitor's pass to go see her mom once a year from then on out. This is acknowledged in the book, but not really explained. Why didn't the curse end for good? Why even suggest that it would end in the first place?
[Update: The author assures me that many of these questions are answered in the sequels, "Little Dead Riding Hood," and "Snow Fright."]
Overall, this was a great read. I would recommend this book to older elementary and middle-school girls in a heart beat. Cindy is relatable. Her problems are both heart-breaking and funny. The illustrations are cute. And the story kept my attention throughout.
Visit the authors' website here: http://www.amieandbethanieborst.com/