The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back by Sariah Wilson
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: August 15, 2012
Publisher: Fire & Ice Books
Pages: 224 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Mattie Lowe's father is a famous, wealthy artist who has been divorced six times. He's a sweet guy, but utterly obsessed with his art, and even when he marries other artists, they feel neglected and leave him. Mattie is the daughter of his first wife. Ella Christensen is the daughter of Wife Number Two, who married Mattie's dad when the girls were two and divorced him a few years later. Mattie is the only biological child of her father, but he always considered Ella his daughter, and when Ella's mother died of breast cancer at the end of the girls' sophomore year, Ella came to live with them because she didn't know who or where her biological father was.
Mattie likes Ella, but she's very conflicted about her. She's jealous of Ella because she's a beautiful, blond cheerleader who is popular with everyone at their elite, private school, teachers and students alike. Yet Ella is anything but conceited. In fact, she's practically a saint, constantly involved in good causes, and kind and supportive of everyone, especially Mattie. Ella's major flaw as far as Mattie is concerned is that, ever since the end of their junior year, Ella has been dating Jake Kingston, a boy that Mattie considers Ella's male counterpart. He's equally gorgeous, popular and kind to everyone he meets, and Mattie intellectually realizes that Jake and Ella are made for each other. But what her mind knows, her heart refuses to accept, because Mattie has been hopelessly in love with Jake since she was nine years old.
I am a huge fan of romantic comedy, and this is an utterly outstanding example of that genre. The humor comes from the wit of the heroine, and the hilarious repartee between her and Jake. I love them both. The subcharacters are also vividly drawn, including Ella, Mattie's father, her callously critical mother, the school principal, Mattie's art teacher whom her father is dating, the Mean Girl amusingly named Mercedes Bentley, and Mercedes's equally malicious boyfriend Scott.
The book is set in California, near the beach, and it is accurately portrayed. The author uses a lot of cultural references, but they are never irritating because they are always funny, and they range across a broad period of time, from the 80's forward, so they won't become dated if this little gem of a book becomes a classic.
There is a really fun subtext of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice within the story itself simultaneously to Jake and Mattie overtly working as a team on an assignment for their English class, putting P&P into a modern context. Mattie creates anime drawings of P&P characters, and Jake writes an accompanying script. Meanwhile, the entire book echoes P&P in that Jake's personality contains features of both Fitzwilliam Darcy and Charles Bingley, Mattie has many similarities to Elizabeth Bennet, and Ella is very much like Jane Bennet.
The HEA ending is utterly delightful, and the author promises a sequel which occurs four years after this story, in which we will have a chance to experience these wonderful characters again. I can't wait.
For those interested in parental guidance information: This is a G-rated, "clean" read. Mattie is a virginal girl who has never been kissed. There are no wild parties and no underage sex, drugs or alcohol.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 5