Backlist Boogie: Gail Carson Levine

Article by liz

Fairy tales are the superior form of literature. Yeah, I said it. You can keep your joyless realism. I’d rather have magic and monsters any day--and if I do, it’s probably Gail Carson Levine’s fault. Gail Carson Levine is the poet laureate of fairy tales, with the cleverest heroines and the most interesting monsters. She never takes on a story in the same way twice, either. There’s a lot that can be done inside your average fairy tale framework, and Levine does it all. Her books are different enough to be fresh--you won’t be bored if you go on a spree and read them all back-to-back!--but they all have the same core that made us love her first: full-color heroines worthy of legend. There are powerful female friendships, endless monsters and magical artifacts for the most overactive of imaginations, and deeply moving choices between what’s right and what’s easy.


Ella Enchanted Cover Image
ISBN: 9780064407052
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: HarperCollins - May 2nd, 2017

I refused to read this book, like the stubborn and petulant second-grader I was, when my mother gave it to me after it won a Newbery Honor. I knew what books I liked. I wasn’t gonna let anybody tell me what to read, even my mom. So Mom got to be vindicated a year later, when I picked ELLA ENCHANTED off my shelf--and didn’t read anything else for about three months. I have always been a re-reader, and I pored over every page of Ella like a dragon polishing every facet of a gem in her hoard.

Ella is cursed to obedience. Whenever anyone gives her a command, she must obey--even if it’s to hurt herself, or someone else. As a young girl already chafing against commands (I didn’t read a great book just because someone had told me I should, for crying out loud), Ella’s curse terrified me. The idea of being powerless like that was scary to me then--it’s still scary to me now, maybe even more so now.

But Ella made me brave. Ella found ways around her curse, ways to be free, and did it all on her own as a book-loving, adventure-seeking girl. Like any Cinderella, she has some help along the way--I wanted her magic book and no-nonsense fairy godmother--but the real strength is all Ella’s. Her gift for languages and cool head serve her just as well as her firm sense of who she is and what she wants, and for once, a fairytale heroine gets a prince who’s just as funny and goodhearted as she is. I believed in Ella, and Gail Carson Levine made it easy to see Ella in myself. More than fairies, that was the best magic of ELLA ENCHANTED.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre Cover Image
ISBN: 9780064409667
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: HarperCollins - April 24th, 2012

I have a big sister who I’ve always been close to, but I can’t deny it’s real work sometimes--and I’m sure parents will agree with me that sometimes siblings are tough. Books like THE TWO PRINCESSES OF BAMARRE, where the two main characters are not only sisters, but devoted friends, made me appreciate my sister in my life and what she means to me. When shy Addie’s brave, adventurous sister Meryl is stricken with the ever-fatal Gray Death, Addie makes the decision to be the adventurer and find the cure for her sister.

What I loved the most about this book was that neither Addie nor Meryl is more or less a hero because of their fears or actions--while it’s undeniably Addie’s story, told in her voice, Meryl is always larger than life and just as important. Both Addie and Meryl have to make some very hard choices, but both come away from their fears and difficult decisions happy with who they are. Levine doesn’t give more weight to cleverness or action--both using your brain and bucking up to do things are equally important here. As always, Levine brings a fabulous take on different storytelling traditions to her stories: when was the last time you saw Anglo-Saxon epic poetry declaimed in a childrens’ book? Beowulf has nothing on Bamarre.

Ever Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061229640
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: HarperCollins - April 26th, 2011

While we’re talking about adapting different storytelling traditions, we have to talk about EVER, Levine’s amazing love story based on early Mesopotamian mythology. Kezi, the daughter of a merchant, finds her time cut short by a brave and terrifying act of sacrifice--but Olus, the young wind god of a neighboring country, refuses to just stand by and watch. Levine covers fate, faith, and sacrifice in refreshingly adult ways, trusting her younger readers in a way that some authors just can’t. She tells the story like a myth, a slightly faraway voice of folklore, which suits Kezi and Olus’ epic deeds perfectly.

A Tale of Two Castles Cover Image
By Gail Carson Levine, Greg Call (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780061229671
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: HarperCollins - December 26th, 2012

Stolen Magic Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061706370
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: HarperCollins - April 21st, 2015

I may have shrieked when I saw Levine had a new series--and that I’d missed the first book! I may have missed A TALE OF TWO CASTLES when it was published in 2011, but you can believe I’m excited for its sequel, STOLEN MAGIC, coming in April. Elodie is a wonderful, different heroine--she wants to be an actress!--and Meenore is a dragon the likes of which have never been in fiction before. She’s clever and vain, yes, but she sells toasted cheese skewers, and moonlights as a detective! Count Jonty Um, likewise, is an ogre--but a very different ogre than I’ve ever read about: shapeshifting, shy, noble and kind. Even now, so far into her career, Levine hasn’t run out of ideas. She can still put a fantastic, different twist on the same old fairytale tropes.

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