Dear Ms. Culver,
I’m a big fan of fairy tale retellings. It doesn’t matter how often it gets done. I will never grow tired of them. So when I realized Manderley Prep was a Cinderella retelling, my interest was piqued. But even my love of fairy tales was not enough to make this book an enjoyable read.
After her father’s death, Cindy Ellis is stuck living with a stepmother who treats her like a servant and two stepsisters who make her life miserable. Determined to create a better life for herself courtesy of an Ivy League education, Cindy gets a scholarship to Manderley Prep. It has a good reputation but it’s also home to the type of student body you’d expect to find in a Gossip Girl novel.
It’s not an easy transition. Her sisters also attend Manderley and start ruining her life from day 1. Cindy doesn’t fit in with the snobby student body at all, and she misses her best friends from her old school. Things start looking up when she meets hot Italian transfer student and soccer star Marco, but she has a lot of competition if she wants to attract and keep his attention.
My main issue was how two-dimensional the characters are. I had a very hard time feeling sympathy for anyone. I expected it of Cindy’s stepmother and stepsisters, given their traditional roles in the original fairy tale, but even Cindy’s newfound friends, Victoria and Scott, were caricatures of the ignorant-to-all-things-American Asian immigrant and the flamboyantly gay teen, respectively.
It doesn’t help that Cindy is pretty shallow herself. She hates how superficial her stepmother and stepsisters are, but she falls for Marco solely because of his looks. And as far as I can tell, his looks are his only selling point. Marco says he’s interested in Cindy but instead of trying to get to know her, he’d rather drive off with her stepsisters and the other girls from Manderley instead. Are we supposed to think that’s okay since Marco likes Cindy because she has no fashion sense, doesn’t care about her looks, and isn’t hot like any of the other girls he’s hooked up with since coming to America? I don’t know about other readers, but the sections told from his point of view did not fit my definition of a “prince” at all.
I also thought the numerous cameos by minor characters only added to the superficial feel of the story. I can only assume they will play bigger roles in future books since hints about their pasts and future storylines are littered throughout but why should I care about what happens to them in the future when I don’t care what happens to them now? A little insight into the various motivations would have gone a long way with me and beyond “Let’s be mean to the new girl because we’re mean” and “Let’s try to hook up with the hot guy because he’s hot”, I found that aspect lacking.
All in all, I can’t help but feel that this book tried to do too much: retell Cinderella while also setting up a series and as a result, floundered on both fronts. It reads and feels too much like the many high school clique novels (Gossip Girl, etc) that have come before and does very little to distinguish itself from its predecessors. Or maybe I just have no desire to spend any more time with teenagers who like to stab each other in the back for no other reason than “Just Because”. D.