Title: Ripped Pages
Author: M. Hollis
Category: YA Fantasy (LGBTQIAP+)
Date: 22 September 2017
Edition: eBook (ARC from author)
Princess Valentina lives a reasonably comfortable life, but after her mother’s death, her father gets tired of taking care of her and locks her in a tower. She spends years on her own, talking to the birds on her windowsill, and reading books with adventures she will never experience. Her plans of running away are usually left for another day because she knows the vast forest surrounding her tower is too dangerous to cross alone.
Until one day, another girl passes by on her horse and Valentina wonders if she’s finally brave enough to seize her chance of freedom.
Ripped Pages is a Rapunzel F/F retelling in the format of a novelette.
I received an ARC from the author in exchange for a review.
There are so, so many things that I just adored about this novelette. The author’s included trigger warnings (which were appreciated) were helpful as it did delve pretty deep into those themes, but it worked in a way that was still heartwarming and sweet while still visiting those dark places. This felt like something I wish I could have read when I was fifteen, as I was a lot like Val myself and really would have appreciated the validation of different genders and sexualities that this story contained.
First off, I really appreciated that despite Val’s dad being a terrible person, the relationship he had with his daughter wasn’t described as “bad,” but “complicated.” Despite his behavior, Val as a child was still hoping that he would give her a chance. He wasn’t bad for the sake of being bad, but at the same time Val acknowledged that why he behaved as he did was a complete mystery to her. The complexity of this relationship felt so real to me, and it made an otherwise flat villain feel like a more rounded person.
I also appreciated that despite that this is primarily a book for gay/lesbian/bi/pan girls, it took the time to acknowledge nonbinary, asexual, and aromantic identities as valid as well. This was a very small part of the book, but in a book about validating the sexuality of a teenage girl it was very effective at acknowledging and validating the sexualities of other teenagers who read this whose sexualities and genders may not line up exactly with Val’s.
The depiction of families in this book was also very refreshing. I just loved how the “evil stepmother” trope, so commonly depicted in fairy tales, was turned on its head here to where the stepmother was one of the best parents in the book. The rest of Agnes’ family is large and supportive of each other, and the combined family automatically integrating Val into their lives was just so sweet.
I also really loved that the book acknowledged that the effects of child abuse don’t end when the child escapes from the abusive parent. After escaping from the tower, Val is still afraid because she knows that getting caught and put back in the tower (or worse) is still a very real possibility, and she shows some signs of PTSD after relocating to Agnes’ home. This added a significant amount of depth to Val’s character that I really empathized with, and I think that this kind of representation is really important to acknowledge.
And, of course, there’s the relationship between Val and Agnes. I loved how this relationship progressed. Val’s initial crush on Agnes was acknowledged almost immediately, but there was nothing forced about the relationship between them. They weren’t interested in each other’s company solely because of romantic interest – they wanted to get to know each other as people. I loved how slow-building the relationship was and how the two of them supported each other regardless of whether romantic interest was involved. This was a very sweet relationship, and the pacing and chemistry both worked very well.
I think what makes this novelette so great to me is that so much about what makes it feel real to me came from a lot of subtlety and carefully-crafted writing. This is an absolute delight to read, and I think it’s a story that queer teens (and others!) should definitely read.
Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars