Cinderella is dead is a Young Adult fantasy retelling of the known tale Cinderella. It was written by Kalynn Bayron and published in 2020 by Bloomsbury YA. In this novel, we meet Sophia, a black lesbian teenager whose love interest — Erin — does not seem to have the same point of view of the world, of the society they both live, as Sophia. As a matter of fact, they both live in the city of Lille, where King Manford rules. In this complex, Bayron-imagined society, Cinderella is almost considered a Goddess, and the original tale could be compared as a religion.
Cinderella Is Dead is full of complexity, and tackles the questions of feminism, lesbianism, and patriarchy. In fact, throughout Sophia’s journey to escape this evil society, she will make acquaintances with different characters who each hold secrets, and she will learn to use these mysteries to defeat her enemy. This novel was very light to read, but also it made me cling to it. The characters triggered a lot of empathy in me, and I felt like each one of them were written with a beautiful complexity that made the story stand in a midst of grey, instead of it having one white side and one black side.
To complete this review, that I must admit is very short, the author had agreed to answer some questions about her novel.
Cinderella is Dead is a re-imagined tale, presenting a patriarchic and archaic society, in which women don’t have their say in the everyday life. Now, I wonder, why did you choose Cinderella specifically? It is not the only tale after all which depicts the woman as a princess saved by her prince, and when I say that I think also of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty; so why Cinderella?
I chose Cinderella because it is highly visible and it encompasses many of the elements I wanted to tackle, specifically villainous women. In Cinderella, we have the step-mother and the two step-sisters. The fact that there are three women who team up to subjugate and degrade Cinderella, a member of their own family, never sat right with me. At its core, Cinderella isn’t about a girl finding her prince, it’s a lesson in how to completely distrust other women and I wanted to tackle that trope.
In the novel, Sophia seems to be a lesbian. Indeed, her two love interests are women. Would you say that the fact that Sophia loves women only, and so does not need men to be happy in her love lives, has a direct link with her fight against patriarchy?
Sophia is queer, yes. She is not attracted to men at all. So her sexuality does play a role but I think her motivation to challenge this patriarchal society she lives in comes more from her seeing that patriarchy is harmful to everyone. She wants to be with Erin, but this society tells her that her place is next to a man and that she has no value unless it is in direct connection to a man. Women are kept from holding positions of power, of influence, they are kept from owning property and are not allowed to drive (a carriage) or be out after dark. We see how the this affects people outside the line of fire, like Liv’s father, for example. We see how broken he is by what happened to Liv and what he fears will happen to his other children as a direct result of these societal norms. Sophia would still be harmed even if she wasn’t queer, but she will feel the weight of this oppression twofold because of her intersecting identities. She’s challenging the patriarchy because it is the right thing to do.
This almost dystopian society is, unfortunately, very similar to the one we live into. Women have very little control over the way men see them and treat them. Would you say that this novel is a criticism of our society?
I think it’s a witness. It does feel very timely, but I’m struggling to think of a time when it wouldn’t have felt so fitting for the times we live in. We have an obligation to tell the truth when it comes to our history and in Cinderella Is Dead one of the biggest challenges Sophia and the other characters face is separating the facts from the propaganda pushed out by the king. She’s loudly critical of the Cinderella story, which elicits pushback from all the people around her. I think my story is meant to shine a light on the dangers of following blindly and binary thinking.
In the middle of the novel, Sophia says that she feels guilty for having feelings for Constance even though she knows perfectly well in what situation Erin is. Although, I may wonder: is Sophia a polyamorous character? How would you explain her shift of love interest if not?
She’s sixteen. She’s spent the past several years crushing really hard on a girl that was not in a position to reciprocate those feelings and then all of the sudden there’s Constance, who is unapologetically infatuated with Sophia. I think it’s a natural, albeit complicated, progression. I know I was in and out of “love” as a teenager! I think sometimes we forget how intense everything is you’re that young. Sophia is just trying to follow her heart.
Sophia is a black woman, just like you, and she is a princess. Does your wish to write about a black princess would have a link with the fact that black girls are poorly represented in fairy tales?
Black women are underrepresented in all genres. I love young adult fantasy so that’s what’s I write and I center Black characters because I love to see us in these kinds of stories. I hope that young Black readers will themselves reflected in the work. My goal is only to provide another mirror, another option.
Cinderella Is Dead is a YA fiction, but I do not think I would have gotten its feminist approach if I were a teenager. To whom would you intend your novel?
I never underestimate the ability of teenagers to pick up on these types of themes. My teen readers are smart, they are well-informed, and so many of them are looking for ways to challenge the system. They are at an age where they are finding out who they are and what they stand for. They are always my intended audience and I think it does a disservice to them to imply that they can’t or won’t pick up on themes of feminism.
This novel isn’t your first one, and as I wander through your Goodreads profile, I can see that you have in fact written seven books, including one DIY guide, and one essay on the way veganism could be tackled with children. After a four year pause in writing, you wrote Cinderella is Dead: how did you come up with such a fantastic idea?
I wrote some practice books that weren’t very good. I took a break to reassess what kinds of stories I wanted to tell. Before Cinderella Is Dead, I was thinking too much about what would sell and because most of the YA books I read feature white, straight protagonists, that what I did too. It fell flat. It wasn’t until I wrote Cinderella Is Dead that I felt like all the pieces came together. The lesson there is to always write the stories that are important to you. The idea for Cinderella Is Dead came about because I love a good retelling and a good hidden history. I asked myself what if everything we thought we knew about the Cinderella story was a lie? What would the truth of that story be?
At what age did you start writing? How would you describe your creative process?
I’ve always been a storyteller. I love storytelling in all of its mediums; from music to dance to literature. I write my first novel when I was 19 but I didn’t find my way back to writing as a career goal until I was in my early 30’s. My process is constantly changing and evolving as I find new ways to get my ideas down on paper. Right now, I’m taking some time to refill my creative well. I’m reading lots of middle grade and young adult fantasy novels. I’m listening to lots of good music. I’m taking some time to work on some short fiction. I’m allowing myself to really stretch when it comes to the kind of representations of teenagers we get to see on the page
How long did it take you to write Cinderella Is Dead?
The first draft took me about 8 months to complete. Then edits/revisions took many more months in total.
Do you plan on writing a sequel to the novel? Would you keep the same point of view?
I’m not sure. I’d love to do another story in the world of Cinderella Is Dead but maybe shift the focus to someone else. We’ll see! You never know what’s going to happen!