Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron – Book Club 

A Book Review (No Spoilers) 

It’s 200 years post-Cinderella and Prince Charming. Teenage girls are now expected to attend an annual Royal ball where men will choose their wife based on the girl’s finery. If you are not chosen, then you ‘disappear’. The story follows Black teenage girl Sophia, who would rather marry her best friend Erin than any man at the ball. She decides to run and is discovered by Constance, a descendant of Cinderella – and the rebellion against the King begins. 

The concept of this book was steeped in potential and the inclusivity was refreshing and exciting, but the characters unfortunately fell a little flat for me as the novel progressed. 

Growing up during, arguably, Disney’s prime princess decade (1990s), the imagery, morals and rhetoric presented to me was that, as a girl, my value matched the prince I found. I could not be my own heroine: I needed a man. Cinderella is a classic example of this. Every princess was also White – a privilege I was oblivious to as a child. However, even at a young age, I escaped into the world of fantasy fiction books – a genre where there were more diverse characters with fewer conventional traits and expectations. My unconscious was seeking a more representative world that I wanted to live in. Accordingly, you can imagine how empowering and refreshing it was to read a book that included lines from a Black and gay female lead who said things like: 

I don’t want to be saved by some knight in shining armour. I’d like to be the one in the armour, and I’d like to be the one doing the saving.

Over the years, LGBTQIA+ representation has become more and more prominent in the books that I have read, like Shadow and Bone, but this novel focussed on certain aspects that I hadn’t read before. For example, facing conflict over being your authentic self. One of the characters was unable to wear her heart on her sleeve because the world they lived in didn’t allow it; her family relied on her to bring in a “good” marriage and there were complexities around openly being in a same-sex relationship. It got me thinking about various privileges and brought to the forefront of my mind elements of the community I hadn’t actively thought about before. We know of prejudices and laws that hold people back, but this book helped me see more than the tip of the iceberg, and the intricacy and variety of reasons why someone cannot openly be themselves. 

I did feel, at times, it was a bit forced between the love interests – I became more conscious of the writing and less immersed in the world. Reflecting on this, I think this was probably because this book is YA (young adult) and had a younger tone to it than I usually read. In comparison, I feel the book The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller has a more natural and seamless take on LGBGTQ+ main character representation. 

I really enjoyed reading a novel that had clearly diverse main characters who were described in enough detail for me to picture them accurately and not make up a (potentially more “mainstream”) version in my head. This is a huge transition from my younger days where characters were unfortunately nearly always heterosexual, White people. This, in itself, is enough for me to encourage everyone to read this book. 

Ultimately, this novel has opened my eyes further and has guided me in unexpected ways to be a better active ally in our beautifully diverse world. The final line of the novel is a message we should all take away: 

Do not be silent.

Raise your voice.

Be a light in the dark.

Have you read it yet? I would love to hear your thoughts. 



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