I love retellings like The Gilded Girl. Retellings give a us a chance to experience a story we love in a new way. And they can give readers unfamiliar with the original a taste of what they’re missing (and hopefully a desire to try it)!
The Gilded Girl by Alyssa Colman retells the story of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgeson Burnett with a few essential changes. For one, Colman shifts the setting from England to early 1900’s America. Second, the serving girl, who is a bit flat in the original, is a second viewpoint character with a lot more spunk. Third, and perhaps most importantly, there is magic.
Emma Harris’s father drops her off at New York City’s most exclusive kindling school–a school designed to help wealthy twelve-year old girls kindle their magic. In Emma’s world, magic either kindles or snuffs December of your twelfth year. While many children have magic, the wealthy have carefully guarded the secret of kindling. And Emma assumes that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. That is, until her father’s death throws her into the position of servant with seemingly no chance of kindling. However for Izzy, a spunky servant girl determined to get her magic and reunite with her sister, this may just be a golden opportunity. Emma and Izzy’s worlds both expand as they learn to look past assumptions and help each other change the world.
What I loved
Historical setting–I enjoyed the new historical setting which includes events like The Great San Fransisco Earthquake and social issues like protests and slums. Colman incorporates this seamlessly into her story.
Discussion worthy issues–One of the best things about reading is that it allows you to look at the world through someone else’s eyes. Indeed, both Emma and Izzy have that experience with each other. This book would make a great jumping off point for discussions about class, poverty, and creating fair laws and institutions.
Complicated characters–I really appreciated the complexity of Izzy’s character compared with Becky, who she was based on. Giving her a fuller perspective, even if she was a bit snarky for me at times, made her a more real character.
Balanced retelling–A good retelling should invite us to see the story in a new way, not just give it blow by blow in a new context. The Gilded Girl does a great job with this, especially through giving Izzy so much agency.
Parents should know
Izzy can be a bit snarky and angry at times, though she has many reasons to be. She softens throughout the book as she begins to see that Emma is actually as good as she seems. There is some minor peril like a chase scene, a fire, and an episode where Emma’s ears get boxed (in a magical and painful way).
My girls (at eight, eleven, and sixteen) loved this book. They were familiar with A Little Princess, having listened to the audiobook several times, so they could point out many of the differences. But The Gilded Girl had a magic all its own and a lovely surprise ending.
If you’re looking for more magical middle grade books, be sure to check out my Beyond Narnia Booklist.