I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Stray by Elissa Sussman
Published by Harper Collins on 2014-10-07
Genres: Fairy Tales & Folklore, Fantasy & Magic, Girls & Women, Young Adult
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A cross between The Handmaid's Tale and Wicked, with a dash of Grimm and Disney thrown in, Stray is part coming-of-age story, part fairy tale, part adventure, part sweet romance.Stray tells the story of Aislynn, a princess who misbehaves and must give up her royal trappings and enter a life of service as a fairy godmother. Will Aislynn remain true to her vows and her royal family, and turn away from everything she longs for? Or will she stray from The Path and discover her own way? Epic, rewarding, and provocative, Stray will appeal to readers of Entwined, by Heather Dixon; to those who grew up watching the Disney princess movies; and to fans of the acclaimed musicals Into the Woods and Wicked.
I really genuinely loved Stray by Elissa Sussman. After reading this one book that I thought was going to be amazing, but wasn’t, I found myself filled with a bit of trepidation about the book I was going to read next. I nervously opened up Stray and started one page and then another and then another, until before I knew it I was 100 pages deep. Friends, I love that feeling. I love that feeling of being surprised by how great a book is. Seriously, I flipped through some goodreads reviews and was all NERVOUS because they were like, well, romance doesn’t play a big role, and I am like what even I love romance! But then, I read the book anyways and goodness I feel so satisfied and well, kind of a little bereft now that I have finished the book.
Have you ever wondered about how fairy godmothers come to be? Well, Stray by Elissa Sussman isn’t exactly going to answer all of your questions about fairy godmothers, but it certainly provides a unique take on this fairytale staple. Aislynn is a princess who finds herself struggling to follow the Path for purity and maintaining a true heart. Unfortunately, one night she is so wicked that it is decided that she is to be punished. What is her punishment? Why, she’s stripped of her royal title and sent to a different academy than the one she is currently at to learn how to be a fairy godmother. While she’s at the new academy she is assigned the status of fairy godmother to the high queen, Linnea, who is actually a teenage girl just like Aislynn. Together, the two form a friendship. Yet, Aislynn finds herself questioning the Path which just might mean that she may be Redirected again.
I instantly connected with Aislynn mainly because her reactions in her world were strikingly similar to what my reactions probably would have been had I been in her spot. She’s got a spine and she’s strong willed. She typically does what she thinks is the right thing, even if other people might not agree with what she’s doing. What I liked also about her is that she does not quite feel that confident in herself, her looks, her magic. I liked that she struggles with confidence, because sometimes that is a thing that I also struggle with. I liked that she loved baking. I liked that she treated people who were in a lower class than she was with respect and as though they were equals. Beyond this, I liked that Aislynn struggles with the world that she is in, a world where women just do not wield much power. I liked that she struggles with the patriarchy while she lives in it.
Where Sussman really impresses me in Stray is with her world building. Friends, you know exactly how much I love fantasy books with rigid rules and class systems and horrible oppressors. THIS BOOK HAS THAT. Okay, so people in different classes have to wear different colors. So, when Aislynn starts the book off as a minor princess, she wears the color blue. Then, when she is punished and forced to become a fairy godmother, she has to wear the color purple. And that’s not even the most rigid thing. So, the central guiding force of this book is a thing called the Path which basically is something that helps people stay Pure for some odd reason, and I don’t mean in the virginal sense, but in the sense that they don’t use magic for nefarious purposes. Anyways, the guardians of virtue are the fairy godmothers and also these men called Advisors who have to be celibate. Then, when a young woman gets married, her husband is her guardian of virtue. If a woman strays from the Path, she is Redirected to a different role — like she goes from being a princess to a fairy godmother and if that doesn’t straighten her out — she goes to being a teacher. It’s hard to explain, but pretty much this is a totally sexist world. BUT THAT IS ON PURPOSE. I mean, Sussman is being totally subversive and it’s so awesome. And you guys I just have jazz hands in my brain when I think about how much I love how this world was laid out. ALSO, the young women are threatened to stay in line by this woman who is powerful called the Wicked Queen, named Josetta. Girls who stray from the Path are called Strays and it’s said that they are being recruited for Josetta’s army. So, that’s just another thing to worry about. See, I love that in this world powerful women are considered to be a threat and bad and like, that’s on purpose because as we readers, we know that’s a crock. Just, trust me and my love for this world that I just was sucked into.
Speaking of things to get sucked into, the romance! THE ROMANCE! Well, I will tell you that it is not a major part of the book. It’s not even something that manifests in kissing and in clandestine meetings. However, there’s still a romance there, thank goodness. Actually, it’s not nearly as swoonworthy as The Girl Of Fire And Thorns, but it’s still cute. So, at first we read this book and think that Aislynn is going to get together with her childhood friend, but that’s not the case. Instead, when she becomes a fairy godmother she meets this guy who she does not even want to brush hands with because he fills her with the feels and oh my goodness it is so adorable. Her concern for him is great and let’s just say there’s a bread baking scene that is SO CUTE OMG I CANNOT WITH THIS REVIEW.
Okay, I think it is obvious at this point just how much I loved Elissa Sussman’s debut novel. Stray was everything I wanted in a fantasy book. There’s such an interesting world. The door is open for a sequel which you can bet your bottom dollar that if it exists, I will be reading. The pacing is unexpectedly fast — I was instantly engaged with the writing. Oh also! There are surprise LGBT elements and it’ s so great and so cool that Sussman acknowledges that LGBT people exist, even in a fantasy world. I just have mad props for that. In all, this book was great and wonderful and special and yes, I wholeheartedly endorse it, it has the April stamp of approval.