Publication Date: April 10, 2012
Mirabelle's past is shrouded in secrecy, from her parents' tragic deaths to her guardians' half-truths about why she can't return to her birthplace, Beau Rivage. Desperate to see the town, Mira runs away a week before her sixteenth birthday—and discovers a world she never could have imagined.
In Beau Rivage, nothing is what it seems—the strangely pale girl with a morbid interest in apples, the obnoxious playboy who's a beast to everyone he meets, and the chivalrous guy who has a thing for damsels in distress. Here, fairy tales come to life, curses are awakened, and ancient stories are played out again and again.
But fairy tales aren't pretty things, and they don't always end in happily ever after. Mira has a role to play, a fairy tale destiny to embrace or resist. As she struggles to take control of her fate, Mira is drawn into the lives of two brothers with fairy tale curses of their own . . . brothers who share a dark secret. And she'll find that love, just like fairy tales, can have sharp edges and hidden thorns.
One of the reasons I think I love retellings of fairytales so much has to do with the way I view them. People have a tendency to think of Grimm's versions as being the 'original' or the 'accurate' or the 'real' version--but that isn't really true at all. Fairytales didn't start out as something that people read and wrote, but something that people listened to or were told. Fairytales are part of our oral history. The same tale could change in details from storyteller to storyteller, or with the same storyteller from night to night. The stories we have written down in Grimm's collection, then, can be looked at as a sort of blueprint of essentials--the skeleton of the story remains the same, but what makes them important, vital, or intriguing is in what way the next storyteller will chose to flesh it out and bring it to life. Sadly, in our often Disney-fied society, we get so caught up in the beauty, the romance, the magic, and the adventure that the darker parts inherent in the often cautionary tales get glossed over, downplayed, or completely removed. That doesn't mean, however, that the Disney versions have not become part of our collective consciousness of fairytales--they are just as legitimate a contribution as the versions set down by Grimm.
Sarah Cross is one of the first authors I have read who seems to agree with that assessment. She is definitely trying to bring the dark bits back--and she does so in horrifyingly beautiful and original ways. (Gwen, my soul cries for you.) However, she is just as quick to toss out references to the Disney versions of fairytales as she is the Grimm versions, treating them like different but equal parts of the same oral history. Fairies fighting over pink and blue frosting meet stepsisters with chopped off toes. Cross recognizes and accepts that Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are as much a part of our cultural baggage as the blood-filled glass slipper.
The thing that fascinates me most about how Cross approaches fairytales, though, is how she chooses to let them play out for different characters. We very rarely find versions--even the dark, old versions--where the prince and princess don't end up living happily ever after. However, Cross shows us that just because the blueprint is followed does not mean that what comes of it will be pretty or good. We usually try to color in it in with happy things, but the details could be ugly and still fill the requirements.
She allows this extra layer of darkness in by frankly exploring the idea of free will. Here in the real world, the idea of everything being part of a bigger picture or plan is often comforting. It is easier to accept loss, pain, or suffering if we think that it is all for a good cause. However, there is never a real way for us to know what that plan may be. We have the feeling of freely making choices to go with that comfort. No such luck for Cross' characters. For them, their future is there for all to see. Everyone knows what will happen next, and, even if they try to fight it, fate steps in and pushes them back where they are supposed to be. Cross does an excellent job of showing how truly terrifying that would be, how helpless that could make you feel.
I also think Cross does an excellent job of subverting fairytale ideals in favor of the richer nuance of reality. Jillian discusses this much better than I in her review, but I like that Cross often uses exaggerated tropes in order to highlight the difference between them and something better. Yes, there is Instalove with Felix, and meant-to-be with Freddie, but no one but Mira (and poor Freddie) ever sees them as something good or right or viable--certainly not the reader! As a reader, I always felt uncomfortable when Mira was with Felix, and felt...well, nothing when she was with Freddie. These relationships pale when compared to Mira's relationship with Blue; they serve to show how much better is the love that grows between two characters who first get to know each other, then like each other, before finally falling in love with each other. I also like how, through these relationships, Cross shows that tradional fairytale roles can be just as unfair to the men as women.
Kill Me Softly is beautiful, dark, mysterious, funny, familiar, and disarming. It is a fascinating blend of the subtle and the obvious. I think it would be equally rewarding for the fairytale enthusiast (ticking off references like an English Major reading The Wasteland) as it would be for the Disney aficionado.
Then she stepped into the yard, like a thief in reverse: breaking and exiting. Stealing herself.
The razor blade hanging from her neck made her feel brave. Honest. A naked blade hid nothing, feared nothing. She wanted to be like that. Because that was how you found yourself, created yourself. You didn't hide. You didn't wait for the perfect moment to settle on you like a butterfly, like magic.
You went out and made magic. Made your own wishes come true.
Review Copy Provided by Egmont and NetGalley
Review also on Goodreads