Elissa Sussman’s Five Favorite Feminist Fairy Tales (and STRAY Giveaway)

Happy Saturday, kittens! While I will be off taking in FlameCon, New York’s first queer comic con, I thought I’d leave you in the capable hands of Elissa Sussman. Elissa is the author of Stray, an amazing feminist fairy tale that actually, for once, features a character slowly coming to grips with the fact that she lives in a toxic patriarchy instead of being introduced battle-ready. The latter’s great, but the former is the process we all have to go through. I think it’s incredibly important to see stories about that process, especially for young adults. Oh, and it’s also super readable and engaging. Stray is part of a great tradition of feminist young adult fairy tales, so here’s Elissa with her five favorite feminist fairy tales.

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My Five Favorite Feminist Fairy Tales
by Elissa Sussman

I love fairy tales and I love feminism, so when the two of them meet, I am one happy reader. Thankfully there are many wonderful and remarkable fairy tale retellings in YA, but because I also like alliteration, here are my top five.

Ash by Malinda Lo

Any fairy tale lover worth their salt should have Ash on their bookshelf. A sweet and magical retelling of Cinderella, Lo gives our little cinder girl a new love interest. Instead of the falling for the prince, Ash is enchanted by his huntress (and vice versa). With this simple little twist, the story of Cinderella is transformed and given new life.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

The Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my favorite fairy tales and a story that has seen its fair share of revisions in the past few years, much to my delight. This version reimagines the story in 1920s New York, where the princesses are wealthy shut-ins who rebel against their tyrannical father by escaping his townhouse and spending their evenings dancing at jazz clubs. Sisterhood is at the center of this story and each of Valentine’s sisters have their own distinct personalities and reactions to the realization that their father intends to marry each of them off without their consent.

valentesixgunsnowwhiteSix Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

A dazzling and lyrical retelling of Snow White, Valente takes the namesake of this character and turns it into a slur. For our protagonist is the daughter of a Crow mother and a white father, and Snow White is the name her stepmother mockingly calls her, a constant (and unnecessary) reminder of the girl’s otherness. It is only when Snow White escapes her father’s house that she begins to discover those like her, in this gritty Wild West version of the familiar tale.

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Another retelling of Snow White, which also looks at beauty and the power we give it. Levine’s Snow White, named Aza, is not beautiful, but she is a gifted singer with the ability to throw her voice. Throughout the story, Aza (and others) learn to redefine their idea of beauty and its necessity in the world, as Aza begins to accept and eventually love herself for who she is.

Deerskin by Robin McKinley

A favorite book of mine, it should be noted that this story (as well as the original fairy tale) is deeply rooted in violence and sexual assault and might be extremely triggering for some readers. Our protagonist experiences a great deal of trauma within the first half of the book, but with the help of her dog, Ash, and others, she is able to confront her father and begin to heal from the abuse she encountered at his hand.


Elissa has also authorized me to give away a hardcover copy of Stray with a little something extra. Let me know what your favorite feminist fairy tale (young adult or otherwise) is, and you’ll be entered for the drawing. The giveaway will run through June 26th; the winner will be contacted shortly thereafter. (So that weekend. I’m a one-woman enterprise, y’all know that.)

2 thoughts on “Elissa Sussman’s Five Favorite Feminist Fairy Tales (and STRAY Giveaway)

  1. I’m adding all of these books (except for the Girls at the Kingfisher Club) to my to-read list. Thanks for the recommendations!

    I had a collection of Grimms Fairy Tales growing up. While I was always the most interested in those with female protagonists, I also longed for more for the characters I loved. More independence, more variance to their stories, more options open to them.

    Ella Enchanted by Gail Cardon Levine: I read this book in fourth grade, and fell head over heels in love. I also acquired from it a long-lasting interest in fairy tale retellings. (I still regret not taking a class about fairy tales with Dr. Artese.) Ella Enchanted was nominated for the 1999 Texas Bluebonnet award, and I was rooting for it so hard. I was so disappointed when it lost, and went around telling people why it deserved the award (whether or not they cared). I will not mention the movie except to say that I saw it at a dollar theater and wanted my money back.

    Beauty by Robin McKinley: I found this at the library near my grandmother’s house in California. Though I’ve read it many times since, my memory of it is sun-soaked, and imbued with the smell of flowers and chlorine. I loved Beauty, and identified with feeling ugly and out of place. And then there was the matter of that library…

    Don’t Bet on the Prince: I found this collection of modern feminist fairy tales in my mom’s office (she’s a retired elementary school counselor). I was bored and had read most of the printed words in her office, so I tried it out. I didn’t have the emotional response that I had when I read Ella Enchanted, but it did make an impression. I’d like to try reading it again, as I suspect that I was just a bit too young at the time.

    Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl: a silly YA fairy-tale with strong-willed, capable, adventurous girl as the protagonist.

    The Girls at the Kingfisher Club: I listened to the audiobook this past winter and I was riveted. I loved the setting, and that the complexities of sisterhood at the forefront of the story. Unfortunately, the experience was soured because the narrator used an offensive “Chinese” accent for on of the characters.

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