Here's one you can read with your young teen or be happy to have them read it on their own.
“It’s like Cinderella but dangerous,” my 9-year old daughter said. “But it’s my book,” I insisted, “Shouldn’t you be reading Treasure Island or something for school?” She put her hands on her hips the way only a 9-year old girl can and informed me, “Treasure Island is boring, Daddy. This is interesting.” Once I finally read it too, I had to admit my daughter is right – Cinder Allia is a great book.
It’s rare to find a book that both adults and children can enjoy, so when Karen Ullo, a Catholic writer and (full disclosure) fellow editor with me at Dappled Things Magazine, sent me Cinder Allia, the novel she published this past June, I couldn’t have been happier when my daughter stole it. What is it that we both liked about it?
First, it’s clever. It takes the bare bones of the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm and makes it entirely new. The story comes to life with palace intrigue, spies, and a backstory about how Allia became a downtrodden step-daughter. In this version, Cinderella becomes Allia, the maid whose job is to clean up the cinders, or ashes, from fireplaces in her father’s palace. Her true prince has died in battle and she must figure out how to save herself and also the kingdom.
Second, the themes are entertaining but not childish. The tale is gripping. I know, because my daughter read it in only two days. As a parent, I’m often frustrated by the low quality of literature in the Young Adult publishing category (ages 12-18). Much of it is poorly written, panders to teen angst, or is morally objectionable, but my daughter isn’t quite ready for adult books yet. Cinder Allia is the rare adult book that also appeals to her age category. One word of warning, though: there are a few scenes depicting death and one brief description of violence against a woman that could cause more sensitive younger readers consternation.
Third, and this is why as a parent I was thrilled my daughter likes it — it praises virtue. Driven in part by the success of 13 Reasons Why,entertainment geared toward YA is growing more bleak and often lacks heroes. Cinder Allia has heroes. They aren’t perfect but they never give up. They come to terms with personal identity, discover courage, and learn that sacrificial love has the power to turn a tragic existence into a real life fairy tale.
My children are growing up in a scary world. They don’t need entertainment that seeks the depths of human depravity. Sure, they need to confront tough issues, but they should be encouraged to do so as heroes who overcome. This is why Cinder Allia is such a breath of fresh air. It’s a robust, mature story that doesn’t shy away from reality but still depicts how wonderful life can be if we’re brave enough to pour our heart and soul into it.
Karen Ullo is the author of two novels, Jennifer the Damnedand Cinder Allia, as well as the managing editor of Dappled Things, a quarterly journal of Catholic art and literature.