Cover image for Confessions of an ugly stepsister
Confessions of an ugly stepsister
Maguire, Gregory.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : ReganBooks, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 368 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
A "retelling of the timeless Cinderella tale."
Reading Level:
860 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.2 15.0 67491.

Reading Counts RC High School 5.6 21 Quiz: 44915.
Added Author:

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"[An] engrossing story...endearing and memorable."
--Boston Herald

"[An] arresting hybrid of mystery, fairy tale, and historical novel."
--Detroit Free Press

"A tale so movingly told that you will say at the end of the first reading, 'It's been a long time since I've read a book this good.'"

--Nashville Tennessean

Gregory Maguire proves himself to be "one of contemporary fiction's most assured myth-makers" (Kirkus Reviews) with Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, his ingenious and provocative retelling of the timeless Cinderella fairy tale. Perhaps best known for his dark and breathtaking Oz series The Wicked Years--including the novel Wicked, which inspired the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical--Maguire is a master at upending the ordinary to help us see the familiar in a brilliant new light.

Author Notes

Gregory Maguire was born June 9, 1954 in Albany, New York. He received a B.A. from the State University of New York at Albany and a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Tufts University. He is a founder and co-director of Children's Literature New England, Incorporated, a non-profit educational charity established in 1987.

He writes for both adults and children. His first book, The Lighting Time, was published in 1978. His adult works include Wicked, Confessions of and Ugly Stepsister, Lost, Mirror Mirror, Son of a Witch, and A Lion Among Men. The Broadway play Wicked is based on his book of the same title. His children's books include the picture book Crabby Cratchitt, the novel The Good Liar, and the Hamlet Chronicles series.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

The inspired concept of Maguire's praised debut, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, was not a fluke. Here he presents an equally beguiling reconstruction of the Cinderella story, set in the 17th century, in which the protagonist is not the beautiful princess-to-be but her plain stepsister. Iris Fisher is an intelligent young woman struggling with poverty and plain looks. She, her mother, Margarethe, and her retarded sister, Ruth, flee their English country village in the wake of her father's violent death, hoping to find welcome in Margarethe's native Holland. But the practical Dutch are fighting the plague and have no sympathy for the needy family. Finally, a portrait painter agrees to hire them as servants, specifying that Iris will be his model. Iris is heartbroken the first time she sees her likeness on canvas, but she begins to understand the function of art. She gains a wider vision of the world when a wealthy merchant named van den Meer becomes the artist's patron, and employs the Fishers to deal with his demanding wife and beautiful but difficult daughter, Clara. Margarethe eventually marries van den Meer, making Clara Iris's stepsister. As her family's hardships ease, Iris begins to long for things inappropriate for a homely girl of her station, like love and beautiful objects. She finds solace and identity as she begins to study painting. Maguire's sophisticated storytelling refreshingly reimagines age-old themes and folklore-familiar characters. Shrewd, pushy, desperate Margarethe is one of his best creations, while his prose is an inventive blend of historically accurate but zesty dialogue and lyrical passages about saving power of art. The narrative is both "magical," as in fairy tales, and anchored in the reality of the 17th century, an astute balance of the ideal and sordid sides of human nature in a vision that fantasy lovers will find hard to resist. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Maguire mines our most familiar tales in his new novel, based on Cinderella. Many of the expected elements are here--the shrewish, greedy stepmother and her plain daughters; the abused servant girl, radiantly beautiful beneath the kitchen grime; the ball; the prince; even the slipper. But these predictabilities are cleverly woven into the dark layers of a highly absorbing story. Set in seventeenth-century Holland, the plot begins with teen-age Iris, smart but not beautiful, her sister Ruth, oxlike and slow, and Margarethe, their shrill, opportunistic mother. The three arrive destitute from England and find shelter keeping house for a struggling Flemish painter. Events relocate them to the grander household of a local tulip merchant, where the story's essential remaining players, including the "Cinderling," are added. Maguire's characters don't fall under traditional fairy tale's one-dimensional classifications of "good" and "evil," although at times readers may find them too closely restricted to personality type. Maguire's precise, slightly archaic language, however, sweeps readers through this mysterious and fascinating story. --Gillian Engberg

Library Journal Review

After years of writing quality fantasy for children, Maguire published his first adult novel, Wicked, to literary acclaim. His new novel is even more accomplished, setting the Cinderella story in 17th-century Holland and making it a narrative of domestic upheavals and artistic challenges. The tale begins with the arrival of a recent widow from England, returned to her native Haarlem with her apparently retarded older daughter and a younger one who is unattractive but sharp and quickly develops an interest in painting. The three become housekeepers to the family of a tulip merchant; when his wife dies, leaving his own young daughter motherless, merchant and widow marry, and their daughters become stepsisters. Maguire places the reader wholly within his story's milieu, evoking the smells, the sights, and the superstitions of the time while deftly capturing his characters' personalities. The plot cannot be intended to surprise, but the sophisticated retelling gives the reader new insights into the truths about human motivations within relationships. For literary collections, including those for older teens.ÄFrancisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-What were Cinderella's wicked stepmother and the ugly stepsisters really like? Maguire has come up with a fascinating hypothesis in this logical, not necessarily magical, retelling of the classic tale. Recently arrived from England, the Dutch-born widow Margarethe and her two children, ungainly and seemingly slow-witted Ruth and plain but intelligent Iris, move into the social mix that is Haarlem in the 17th century. Soon after her arrival, she marries a newly widowed tulip merchant with one child. The author firmly places his characters into the down-to-earth and stolid reality of a Holland fearful of the plague and intent on developing the tulip business that will make it famous, yet capable of nurturing Rembrandt and Hals. The well-drawn characters include a striving Dutch painter and his appealing apprentice; a beautiful, otherworldly child; her scatterbrained mother and burgher father; and even "The Queen of the Hairy-Chinned Gypsies." The plot is plausible and, given the fact that readers will think they know how it all works out, full of surprises. This is not an easy read, but the pretext is appealing and the resulting story worth the effort. Thoughtful YAs will enjoy a new take on a familiar tale, and be thoroughly involved in this historical romp.-Susan H. Woodcock, Chantilly Regional Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister Marketplace The wind being fierce and the tides unobliging, the ship from Harwich has a slow time of it. Timbers creak, sails snap as the vessel lurches up the brown river to the quay. It arrives later than expected, the bright finish to a cloudy afternoon. The travelers clamber out, eager for water to freshen their mouths. Among them are a strict-stemmed woman and two daughters. The woman is bad-tempered because she's terrified. The last of her coin has gone to pay the passage. For two days, only the charity of fellow travelers has kept her and her girls from hunger. If you can call it charity -- a hard crust of bread, a rind of old cheese to gnaw. And then brought back up as gorge, thanks to the heaving sea. The mother has had to turn her face from it. Shame has a dreadful smell. So mother and daughters stumble, taking a moment to find their footing on the quay. The sun rolls westward, the light falls lengthwise, the foreigners step into their shadows. The street is splotched with puddles from an earlier cloudburst. The younger girl leads the older one. They are timid and eager. Are they stepping into a country of tales, wonders the younger girl. Is this new land a place where magic really happens? Not in cloaks of darkness as in England, but in light of day? How is this new world complected? "Don't gawk, Iris. Don't lose yourself in fancy. And keep up," says the woman. "It won't do to arrive at Grandfather's house after dark. He might bar himself against robbers and rogues, not daring to open the doors and shutters till morning. Ruth, move your lazy limbs for once. Grandfather's house is beyond the marketplace, that much I remember being told. We'll get nearer, we'll ask." "Mama, Ruth is tired," says the younger daughter, "she hasn't eaten much nor slept well. We're coming as fast as we can. "Don't apologize, it wastes your breath. just mend your ways and watch your tongue," says the mother. "Do you think I don't have enough on my mind?" " Yes, of course," agrees the younger daughter, by rote, "it's just that Ruth-" "You're always gnawing the same bone. Let Ruth speak for herself if she wants to complain." But Ruth won't speak for herself. So they move up the street, along a shallow incline, between step-gabled brick houses. The small windowpanes, still unshuttered at this hour, pick up a late-afternoon shine. The stoops are scrubbed, the streets swept of manure and leaves and dirt. A smell of afternoon baking lifts from hidden kitchen yards. It awakens both hunger and hope. "Pies grow on their roofs in this town," the mother says. "That'll mean a welcome for us at Grandfather's. Surely. Surely. Now is the market this way? -- for beyond that we'll find his house -- or that way?" "Oh, the market," says a croaky old dame, half hidden in the gloom of a doorway, "what you can buy there, and what you can sell!" The younger daughter screws herself around: Is this the voice of a wise woman, a fairy crone to help them? "Tell me the way," says the mother, peering. "You tell your own way," says the dame, and disappears. Nothing there but the shadow of her voice. "Stingy with directions? Then stingy with charity too?" The mother squares her shoulders. "There's a church steeple. The market must be nearby. Come." At the end of a lane the marketplace opens before them. The stalls are nested on the edges of a broad square, a church looming over one end and a government house opposite. Houses of prosperous people, shoulder to shoulder. All the buildings stand up straight-not like the slumped timberframed cottage back in England, back home ... -- the cottage now abandoned ... abandoned in a storm of poundings at the shutters, of shouts: "A knife to your throat! You'll swallow my sharp blade. Open up!". . . Abandoned, as mother and daughters scrambled through a side window, a cudgel splintering the very door -- Screeeee -- an airborne alarm. Seagulls make arabesques near the front of the church, being kept from the fish tables by a couple of tired, zealous dogs. The public space is cold from the ocean wind, but it is lit rosy and golden, from sun on brick and stone. Anything might happen here, thinks the younger girl. Anything! Even, maybe, something good. The market: near the end of its day. Smelling of tired vegetables, strong fish, smoking embers, earth on the roots of parsnips and cabbages. The habit of hunger is a hard one to master. The girls gasp. They are ravenous. Fish laid to serry like roofing tiles, glinting in their own oils. Gourds and marrows. Apples, golden, red, green. Tumbles of grapes, some already jellying in their split skins. Cheeses coated with bone-hard wax, or caught in webbing and dripping whitely-cats sprawl beneath like Ottoman pashas, open-mouthed. "Oh," says the younger sister when the older one has stopped to gape at the abundance. "Mama, a throwaway scrap for us! There must be." The mother's face draws even more closed than usual. I won't have us seen to be begging on our first afternoon here," she hisses. "Iris, don' t show such hunger in your eyes. Your greed betrays you." "We haven't eaten a real pasty since England, Mama! When are we going to eat again? Ever?" "We saw few gestures of charity for us there, and I won't ask for charity here," says the mother. "We are gone from England, Iris, escaped with our lives. You're hungry? Eat the air, drink the light. Food will follow. Hold your chin high and keep your pride." But Iris's hunger -- a new one for her-is for the look of things as much as for the taste of them. Ever since the sudden flight from England ... Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister . Copyright © by Gregory Maguire. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Stories Painted on Porcelainp. xiii
1 The Obscure Childp. 1
Marketplacep. 3
Stories Told Through Windowsp. 12
Lookingp. 18
Meadowp. 28
Sitting for Schoonmakerp. 33
Girl with Wildflowersp. 45
Half a Doorp. 54
Van den Meer's Householdp. 64
2 The Imp-Riddled Housep. 77
The Small Room of Outsidep. 79
Small Oilsp. 98
The Masterpiecep. 105
Rue, Sage, Thyme, and Temperp. 109
Receptionp. 117
Virginalp. 123
Simplesp. 129
3 The Girl of Ashesp. 139
Flowers for the Deadp. 141
Plague and Quarantinep. 152
The Nowhere Windmillp. 160
Invitationsp. 171
A Fair Light on a Full Tablep. 184
Wind and Tidep. 196
The Girl of Ashesp. 204
Fineryp. 211
Spine and Chamberp. 221
Collapsesp. 226
4 The Gallery of God's Mistakesp. 231
Campaignsp. 233
The Gallery of God's Mistakesp. 241
Cinderellap. 253
Van Stolk and van Antump. 257
The Night Before the Ballp. 266
The Changelingp. 281
Small Magicp. 284
Tulip and Turnipsp. 292
5 The Ballp. 301
The Medici Ballp. 303
Clarissa of Aragonp. 322
Midnightp. 334
A Most Unholy Nightp. 345
The Second Slipperp. 351
Epilogue: Stories Written in Oilsp. 360