Although I love all of our Cybils finalists, not all of them are books that I would have loved myself as a child. I have been a fan of fairy tale retellings as long as I can remember, and 10-year-old me would have loved this book just as much as I think modern kids will.
by Deva Fagan
Read from a library copy
Fable and her family, who read as white, live on the outskirts of the magical wall of thorns that surrounds an enchanted castle. Magical Blight has spread from that site, infecting Fable before she was born. With no face of her own, she must borrow the faces – and energy – of her family members to survive. But when a neighbor reports her to the Hunters, she (and her talking cat, Moth) flee into the forest and through the wall of thorns. She takes the time on her flight to make a wish to the one of the Subtle Powers, Lady Mirachne, who set up the wall to prevent the Blight from spreading. Even though her cat warns her that the Powers are not to be trusted, Fable feels that this is her best chance.
Unsurprisingly, since they’ve been cut off for a century or so, the world on the other side is different than either Fable or her young hunter, Vycorax, were led to expect. It’s soon clear that the Blight affects the residents inside the forest much more than Fable had realized – and that Fable and Vycorax will have to work together to survive the Blighted landscape. Though Fable had wanted to ask a favor just of Mirachne, Lady of Dreams, she soon has the unwelcome attention of the trickster Lord Bannon, who created the Blight in the first place. By the time she and Moth make it to the castle, everything she believed to be true has been turned on its head.
This is a lovely, gender-swapped reworking of Sleeping Beauty, with great characters (including a two-mother family in the village and a the few residents left in the castle) and lots of adventure, as well as deeper thoughts about developing identity and the dangers of a life lived not knowing what suffering is.
Other great middle grade Sleeping Beauty retellings include Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon and The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell. For YA retellings, try Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley, Spindle by E.K. Johnston, or Castle Waiting by Linda Medley.