This is so not a fairy tale.
San Antonio author Kalynn Bayron signals as much with the title of her thrilling and timely young-adult debut, "Cinderella is Dead" (Bloomsbury, $18.99).
It’s been two centuries since Cinderella passed on, but her legacy informs a great deal in the kingdom of Mersailles. Each household must keep at least one "pristine" copy of the story, the better to reinforce the lore that fairy godmothers exist. All teenage girls must attend an annual ball in hopes that a suitor will choose them. Their husbands rule their homes like Mersailles’ despot rules his kingdom — with absolute power. Girls who aren’t chosen by their third ball are relegated to working status, or even disappear entirely.
"I don’t want to be saved by some knight in shining armor," 16-year-old Sophia thinks, as her friend urges her to go to her pre-ball dress fitting. "I’d like to be the one in the armor, and I’d like to be the one doing the saving."
These expectations particularly rankle Sophia, who’s been in love with Erin for years. Her parents urge her to keep that to herself so she can survive. But on the night of the ball, Sophia makes a run for it. She ends up meeting Constance, the last surviving descendant of Cinderella’s stepsisters, and together, the two hatch a plan to do nothing less than smash the patriarchy.
Bayron, who will discuss the book July 23 via BookPeople, weaves familiar elements from both the original story and pop culture into her reboot. I defy any parent not to nod in recognition at her depiction of Market Street a few days before the fateful ball. There are "Palace-Approved Replica" glass slippers for sale and young girls clamoring to play a carnival game that bestows winners with a mini beaded bracelet and a scroll that reads "I Was Chosen At the Bicentennial Celebration."
Ultimately, though, "Cinderella is Dead" subverts and transforms the fairy tale into an action-packed, powerful feminist adventure. Sophia and Constance set off through the woods on their quest, full of a passion to set things right. It’s enough to make you forget about the pandemic for a while. (Ages 13 and older)
Sometimes, being able to speak to animals is not as cool as you’d think. Sixth-grader Nestor tells us that right away in "The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.99), Austin author Adrianna Cuevas’ inventive middle-grade debut. She launches the book July 21 virtually through BookPeople.
Nestor lives with his mother and abuela while his father is in Afghanistan, disarming bombs for the Army: "Now Dad is across an ocean, playing catch with someone who is not me," Cuevas writes. It’s about to be Nestor’s 10th first day of school after multiple moves.
But soon he has much more to worry about than the pea-flicking class bully. Animals in his small Texas town are going missing. Nestor discovered he could talk to animals at age 4, though he mostly keeps that to himself. ("Talib seems like a good guy," he thinks of a new friend, "but I don’t want to send him screaming by revealing my secret.") That’s how he hears from a coyote about the witch who’s hunting other animals in the forest so she can take their powers.
Cuevas deftly blends Nestor and his friends’ realities — middle-school quiz bowl! — with the magic of conversing with animals and battling witches. It’s a potent mix that’s also affecting in its portrayal of military families.
She’ll be joined Tuesday by fellow debut author Chantel Acevedo, whose "Muse Squad" (Balzer + Bray, $16.99) follows a Cuban American middle-schooler who finds out she is one of the nine muses of Greek mythology. (Both, ages 8-12)
More to read from the Mayor’s Book Club
Like so many other aspects of daily life, book clubs have gone virtual. That’s true as well for the 2020 Mayor’s Book Club, a program of the Austin Public Library’s Library Foundation. Rather than focusing on a single title, this year the club is showcasing more than 30 books from Austin authors.
Plans are under way for readings, panel discussions and author conversations later this fall.
The young-adult list features New York Times best-selling author Amy Tintera, whose just-published "All These Monsters" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99) centers on a teenager who becomes part of an international monster-fighting squad to escape her abusive home life, and graphic novelist Ngozi Ukazu’s second volume in the "Check, Please" (Macmillan, $16.99) hockey-themed comic series.
Middle-grade selections include P.J. Hoover’s reimagined Odyssey epic "Homer’s Excellent Adventure" (CBay Books, $18.95/$9.95), and the picture-book section showcases Christina Soontornvat’s new ode to enjoying art, "Simon at the Art Museum" (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, $17.99).
Check out the full list at austinlibrary.org/mayors-book-club.