The Stepmother: A Novel
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Agnes finds dream after dream either barred to her, or drastically changed thanks to her origins, including one particularly heartbreaking moment regarding her religious education. She is intelligent; she is a fiercely hard worker; she is not always honest. And she is determined to succeed, both for herself and her daughters, whatever those barriers.
The novel is set in an imaginary medieval kingdom, with only a few historical details to pin down the time of the tale—mostly in a passing reference to Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince , placing the story sometime between That is, shortly after the Black Death initially swept through Europe, sowing social chaos and change in its wake.
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Though the kingdom is imaginary, with nothing more than the reference to Edward of Woodstock and a queen called Philippa to anchor it, the setting is a realistic one: as Agnes says bitterly early on, fairies do not exist, and this is a world without any magic other than art and education—both magical in their way. Along with stepmothers. In fact, unless I missed it, the book does not contain a single mention of pumpkins, possibly in a nod to its medieval setting—that is, before pumpkins were brought over from the Americas.
But Teller does manage to work in a rather clever reference to the rats. With a touch more realism, since Agnes lacks a fairy godmother and glass slippers. One of whom, in a nice touch, is visibly biracial; the other is white-passing. But somehow or other, even these angry moments never seem to turn Ella into a real person. Something anyone can aspire to, even without a fairy godmother.
Ever since we'd sat down, she'd been keeping a vigilant eye on the entrance. I eased her shoulders round to face the stage.
The lights dimmedand an awed murmur rose up from the assorted parents, siblings, and extras, and dissolved into a hush. Four worried chestnut-colored eyes sought mine in the gloom of the darkened assembly hall. Jimmy eased his way along the narrow aisle with such charm that no one other than me seemed to mind. He even stopped to kiss a particularly good friend of ours, and shook some of the other dads' hands.
I put my fingers to my lips and pointed toward the stage. The thick green velvet curtains were being drawn back to expose the mean streets of Hell's Kitchen, New York, where girls dressed as boys clicked and hissed and spat at one another, marking out the infamous territories between the Jets and the Sharks.
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Then the aggression left the stage and there was our eldest daughter. She peered out at us through an invisible mirror, examining her reflection as intensely as everyone else was now examining her. Was it my imagination or did a collective gasp ripple through the audience? She looked phenomenally beautiful. Older and more self-possessed than her fourteen years—how was it possible that we had a fourteen-year-old child? I stared at Amber, moving around the stage as easily as liquid, my brain leaping ahead to her next line before she'd finished delivering the one she was on.
I was impressed, mesmerized, and terrified in equal measures.
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After years of singledom, what does Tessa have to do to finally live happily ever after? But if Bea and Tessa are brave enough, they just may find a friend where they once saw an enemy.
Absorbing and touching, humorous and honest, The Stepmother reminds us that there is always another side to the story. This is a follow up to the Godmother which I thought was an excellent read. It takes up where the Godmother ended with some of the same characters you came to love.
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I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a light read. Just great! I am reading her two books backwards but I have The Godmother in my hands right this minute and am looking forward to another easy solution to getting myself through my Nordic Track Carrie Adams is the author of The Godmother, which is being adapted for film.
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She lives in London with her husband and three children. The Stepmother : A Novel.