Book Review

Letters to Zell by Camille Griep

letters to zell

I actually got this book from the library and read it for the first time in the end of October 2015.  I loved it so much that I just bought my own copy on Amazon so that I could re-read it, write a review, and make people borrow it and read it.

Letters to Zell, written by Camille Griep and published July 1, 2015 by 47North, is available from Amazon.com as a paperback ($10.00) or Kindle ebook ($4.99) and is also available for free through Kindle Unlimited. It is available through Audible as an audiobook for $9.95 (1 credit).

Told in the format of letters written to Zell (short for Rapunzel), this 326 page novel offers a modern re-telling of classic fairytales.  It follows CeCi (Cinderella), Bianca (Snow White), and Rory (Sleeping Beauty) after they hear the news that Zell has run off from Grimmland to help run a Unicorn preserve.  They keep her up to date on their own lives through letters, allowing the reader to see their different personalities, values, hopes, and dreams.

Given the title, I assumed that the story would primarily be about Zell.  The first time I read LTZ, I was a little disappointed at first that I wasn’t getting to hear much of her story, but I realized fairly quickly that the heart of the story really isn’t about her and remembered that the title is Letters TO Zell, not Letters FROM Zell.

I’m not sure why, but I envisioned CeCi (Cinderella) as Kristin Chenoweth as Glenda from the musical, Wicked.  I think it has to do with her sarcasm and wit.  She is the first character introduced and initially seems a bit pretentious and spoiled, but I promise she grows on you as the story goes on. In addition to giving us a little bit of information about CeCi’s life, her first letter to Zell establishes a few ideas that are important throughout the novel.  Firstly, that the princesses’ stories more closely resemble the tales from the Grimm Brothers than anything Disney has ever created; secondly, that Zell, CeCi, Rory, and Bianca are all very close friends; and, thirdly, the importance of each princess’s “Pages,” “unpredictable stories penned by a capricious author” that dictate what happens in each princess’s life.  Once a princess has completed her Pages, she is free to make decisions about her own life, within what seem to be certain set limits and societal expectations.

Bianca (Snow White) is much edgier than any version of her I’ve read or seen so far.  She cusses, which I like, even having the f word at the top of her stationary (Important F***ing Correspondence from Snow B. White).  She has really realistic ideas about love, believing that relationships “should be based on mutual interests, trust, [and] friendship.”  Until you read her first letter, it’s possible you could think this is a children’s book- which would be a mistake.  Bianca is strong, fierce, and independent and I really admire her individuality and spirit.  I think one of the main reasons I like her is that she is also quite the feminist, which is pretty amazing when you consider the implied view points of most of the other people who live in Grimmland.

Rory (Aurora/ Sleeping Beauty) starts the book as a meek and meager little thing.  I feel quite bad for her for much of the book as she seems to let people treat her like a doormat and her husband is an absolute ASS. She is naive about the world and has absolutely terrible self-esteem.  She also experienced major heart break due to the fact that 100 years ago she and Fred went against her pages, causing him to be banished to the Outside (our world) and her to be put into an enchanted sleep to save her life.  She wakes up (without a magical kiss from her true love) and there is Henry, who becomes her husband when she has new Pages written.  Towards the end of the story, I found myself really relating to Rory, but I don’t want to say too much about that.

CeCi is really into cooking, even though princesses aren’t supposed to cook, and she learns from another character that on the Outside, you can take cooking classes.  It’s dangerous to travel to the Outside when you have unfinished Pages, so at least one person always has to go with Bianca when she travels to the Outside.  There are also really specific rules about traveling to the Outside and if the princesses stay Outside for too long, they could be trapped there with no way to return to Grimmland.  The four princesses journey to Hollywood and find a cooking school where they take a souffle class.  CeCi loves it so much that Bianca bought her a year long cooking course for her birthday.  They continue to venture out into the Outside, CeCi enjoying her cooking classes, Bianca finally starting to believe in love, and Rory doing her damndest to find ways to keep her husband’s interest.

There are lots of little jokes for the reader about things that the princesses don’t understand about the Outside.  For example, when Bianca asks the head souffle chef at the cooking school why their rubber shoes are so orange and homely, she says that the chef mutters something about it being the nature of crocodiles and resolves to ask Captain Hook about it the next time she sees him.

At the end of the day, Letters to Zell is a story about friendship and strength and love and passions and independence.  It’s about not just accepting your destiny, but getting out there and making your own.  It’s a wonderful read and I would highly encourage anyone to read it, but especially those who have a love of Disney princesses and fairytales. I’m on my second read now, but I have a feeling this is a book I will return to over and over again and I sincerely hope Camille Griep writes another book about the girls who have come to be my fictional friends.

Reading Letters to Zell convinced me to seek out every novel I could find within the Modern Retelling of Classic Fairytales genre and I have been very happy with the other books I have found so far.  Not only was LTZ a gift, but it continues to give me more gifts with each new book I find within the genre it compelled me to explore.

I would also like to note that Camille Griep is lovely.  I tweeted her to tell her how much I love the book and we had a short conversation about my favorite character (Bianca) and how I related to her realistic portrayal of depression at a crucial point in the book.  She did not ask me to review this book and no one offered me any compensation for doing so.

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