Published: Oct. 2014
Young Adult Contemporary
I want to hug this book.
Many writer friends gushed over Damsel Distressed, and now I understand. I'm surprised, even if I shouldn't be based on the tastes of those friends, at how this Cinderella send-up is so emotionally resonating. That was likely my miscalculation, since this isn't a retelling, and even the gimmick of a character being named Ella Cinder itself is pulled apart and laughed over by the other characters.
Imogen struggles with grief, self-harm, and low self-esteem after losing her mother at a young age. Now, she's expected to adjust to her father's remarriage, a new step-sister who hates her, all while Dad is barely around due to work. Additionally, Imogen's feels like she doesn't belong in her own overweight body. So many times this book could have gone to cliche plot devices or eschewed mature conversations, and yet did not. By mature, I do not mean swearing or "bad" language, but by not watering down or simplifying for a teen audience themes that require emotional maturity to grasp.
The setting of a stage production of Once Upon a Mattress was completely fitting for the fairy tale deconstruction theme, and was just fun to see the joy Imogen and her friends experienced as stage crew for the school production. I loved the intimate conversations that cropped up in the sound booth or backstage while being fit for costumes. That's where those discussions happen--not saved for the right moment when characters take a walk by a stream, but right there among the chaos, and whispered behind a barely closed door. It took me right back to my own days in the school musical where some of my favorite high school memories originated.
Other non-cliches: no "evil" stepmother here, only Imogen's changing perception of stepmother Evelyn. Supportive friends who were affected by changes in their relationship with Imogen, not from random plot devices. A BFF-potential love interest with a complex, believable relationship. Moments where Imogen shows huge maturity, and moments where she's allowed to be what she is--a hurting teen girl. Therapists who are helpful, and several teens who take medication and not shamed, though again, Imogen has her own personal struggle with how she views herself.
A highly recommended read full of depth and wonderful, real moments.