Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Month of Rapunzel: Book Review: Zel by Donna Jo Napoli (no spoilers)

Book: Zel
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Publication: September 1st, 1996
Source: Local Library
Read: January 4th-6th, 2014
Summary (From Goodreads):
High in the mountains, Zel lives with her mother, who insists they have all they need -- for they have each other. Zel's life is peaceful and protected -- until a chance encounter changes everything. When she meets a beautiful young prince at the market one day, she is profoundly moved by new emotions. But Zel's mother sees the future unfolding -- and she will do the unspeakable to prevent Zel from leaving her...

My Thoughts:
Although I have given every single Rapunzel retelling I have read 5 stars. This one is by far my favorite. Zel gave me everything I was left wanting in Golden and more. All we know from the original story of Rapunzel is about a girl trapped in a tower. This Rapunzel retelling gives the answer to what Rapunzel did before she was trapped in a tower.

It all starts with a women who is barren and longs for a child. A pregnant mother who longs for the lettuce Rapunzel. The mother can have her Rapunzel and the barren women will have Zel. For 13 years Mother raises Zel and loves Zel as any mother would. They live in a cabin in the mountains and Zel lives a pretty normal life by all means. Until Mother and Zel go to town. It is in town that Mother leaves Zel with the blacksmith so she can get Zel's birthday gift. Then Zel meets Konrad and everything changes.

Zel was a well-developed, lovable character. Napoli showed a part of Rapunzel's story that most authors are afraid to show. It changes people when you are trapped in a tower. Zel went from being a bubbly 13 year old girl to a bitter 15 year old. Zel was at her heart naive. She believed what her Mother told her, but what choice did she have. She had very little contact with other people when she was growing up so her Mother became her only friend.

Mother was the evil character of this story, but the thing is she didn't really seem evil. She seemed to love Rapunzel with all her heart. She would do anything to protect Rapunzel even if it meant taking extreme measures. Mother realized that her actions had consequences. Without Rapunzel Mother was as she would have been anyways that is the terribly aching part of the story.

Then there is our prince Charming Count Konrad. Was this boy a prince. He searched and searched and searched for Zel to no avail. He knew this girl was the right one for him. Konrad taught me that things aren't always the way they seem. Sometimes even though we can see we are blind to what is right there in front of us. The irony of Konrad's searching comes at the end and his ending is marvelous to say the least.

The thing I most look for in fairy tale retellings is how the author changed the story. Zel stuck enough to the original story to make me satisfied, but also changed the story in many unique ways. I actually think Disney's Tangled might have got a few of their ideas from Zel. From the Rapunzel retellings I have read so far Zel has by far been the most unique. It didn't have the overly insta-love like the other ones I have read. I loved the character development of Zel. She really showed how being trapped would change your outlook on life and how you trust people. The most important theme in this book was hope. Hope of a happily every after. Hope of freedom. This was shown mostly through Konrad's character as he had hope of finding Rapunzel. Napoli changed Rapunzel's story in a way that made the story stand out in my mind. Zel was fast paced and hard to put down. I read most of this book in a day. The writing in this novel is rich with hidden qualities. If I was reading too fast there would be little clues that I would miss. Take your time and enjoy this story. This novel had the development in the story that I think Golden was missing and so much more. Golden and Zel have many similarities, but at the end of the day I would choose Zel to be the better novel. I suggest for all fairy tale lovers to read this beautifully written book. I can guarantee that Zel will be a book that stays with you for quite some time.


  1. Hmm, not sure if my comment was eaten by gremlins. So glad you enjoyed this one and love how much you have enjoyed all of the retellings. I added this to my wishlist since it was your favorite.

    1. I was deeply moved by Zel. I think it tackled Rapunzel in a way that just fit perfectly.


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