Napoli, Donna Jo. Zel. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 1996.
Zel is the very creative retelling of the fairy tale classic, ‘Rapunzel.” In Napoli’s version Zel and her mother live in isolation in the Swiss countryside, far away from human contact. Mother does her very best to give Zel everything she needs in the hopes of binding Zel to her forever. As her daughter reaches maturity mother realizes Zel will have an important decision to make, marry and raise a traditional family, or follow in her mother’s footsteps and sell her soul to become a witch. Afraid Zel will make the “wrong” decision Zel’s mother locks Zel in the tower everyone knows from the traditional story. Napoli does a clever job at including small details from the original story including the obsession with lamb’s lettuce.
The very first thing I noticed about this book was its voice structure. Zel is told from the point of view of three different characters: Zel (in third person present), Konrad (in third person present), and Zel’s mother (oddly enough, in first person present). In the beginning I wanted to complain about it, but by the end of the third chapter I found it ingenious. Through Zel’s mother’s thoughts you get the incredibly twisted psychology of love and obsession. The story wouldn’t have been as dark and dangerous if all voices were the same. We needed to see mother’s reasoning for locking Zel away in the tower. This psychological insight allowed us see the story from a different angle and not lean on the original story of Rapunzel.
Favorite lines (all from ‘Mother’), “Such crass people, whose warmth can be bought with a coin” (p 16), “Panic teases my skin” (p 59), and “I live the life I would have have lived if I never had Zel in the first place. Only it is far worse – for I know what I have lost” (p 142).
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Fractured Fairy Tales” (p 94).