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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

Napoli, Donna Jo. Zel. This is a re-telling of the fairy tale Repunzel. Listed as a YA, when I started the novel, I initially feared disappointment as it seemed written for a much younger (maybe elementary school) audience rather than for young adults. Knowing that I could get through it in a few hours, I decided to stick with it. And I'm so glad I did.

The novel moved from language and content appropriate for a child, to something appropriate for a young adolescent, to something much more. Style and content went hand in hand, an interesting approach that worked well with smooth and gradual transitions.

Even more interesting, this rendition of Repunzel is dark in a modern context; elements that are sublinated in traditional fairy tales are brought to the fore in this little novel. The narrative moves from third person to first person and back again. Mother tells the story in her own words; Zel and Konrad's stories are in third person, and the chapters move back and forth.

While keeping essential elements from the traditional story, this version is much more personal than classic fairy tales and, in its frank examination of love, greed, budding sexuality, and obsession--much more direct.

The end result, I think, is not a young adult novel, but a close examination of the sometimes disturbing psychological aspects that inspired the original tale and that are part of the human experience. Zel is a modern transformation -- perhaps better suited to adults who are fascinated by the study of fairy tales and their psychological implications. Which doesn't mean that young people wouldn't enjoy it, only that despite the simple language, there are truly adult themes at work.


Fiction. YA. Fairy Tale. 1996. 227 pages.


  1. Sounds great! I love fairytales. The last one I read was The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Loved it!

  2. I've added this to the list, it sounds fascinating. Do you know Adele Geras's reteling of Rapunzel for YA? It's called 'Tower Room' and it's the first of three which can be found in one volume, 'Happy Ever After'. Definitely worth looking out.

  3. Bunny B - I've heard great things about The Goose Girl. Hale has also written a Repunzel retelling (Repunzel's Revenge) that isn't out yet, and I've got The Book of a Thousand Days on my Once Upon a Time TBR list.

    Ann - No,I didn't realize Adele Geras had a Repunzel re-telling, but thanks for letting me know, you've given me another literary itinerary, a digression from the fairy tale path.

  4. I really liked your review! I haven't seen this book (probably as I don't often check the YA shelves) but will have to add it to my list!

  5. Jenclair - You should read it! :) Even my husband kept on peeking from my shoulder to read it.
    Ooo.. I didn't know about the Rapunzel retelling. Thanks for the heads up. I def will want to read that!

  6. iliana - I was so disappointed when I started it, but by the end, I was really impressed. It is dark, at times, though.

    Bunny - I'll look for The Goose Girl next time I'm in the library.

  7. I absolutely HAVE to read this. It sounds like something I would love.

  8. Nymeth - It is a great version of the Rapunzel story; I think you will like just have to get past the first few chapters.

  9. I read enough reviews about this book that I'm definitely going to read it. I'll add my recommendations for any of Shannon Hale's fairy tales. You will love them.

  10. Framed - I've read Book of a Thousand Days by Hale recently and am definitely a convert.