Friday, January 18, 2013

Rapunzel Untangled

by Cindy C. Bennett
Read: January 7-11, 2013
Published: February 12, 2013, by author
Source: Net Gallery* 
Category: Modern Fairy Tale retelling, YA

Rapunzel is not your average teenager. 

For one thing, she has a serious illness that keeps her inside the mysterious Gothel Mansion. And for another, her hair is 15 feet long. Not to mention that she’s also the key to ultimately saving the world from certain destruction. But then she meets a boy named Fane, who changes all she has ever known, and she decides to risk everything familiar to find out who she really is. 

Filled with romance, adventure, and mystery, Rapunzel Untangled is one story you won’t want to put down. Discover the true meaning of love and friendship in this modern twist to the classic fairytale. (from Goodreads)

The set up
Rapunzel has lived all her life inside her rooms, because of a rare illness that could kill her if she went outside. Her only human contact is with her mother who is fanatical about keeping her safe. But Rapunzel longs to see the outside world. When Rapunzel secretly "meets" a local boy named Fane on Facebook, she begins to question her mother's motives, and realizes that her sheltered life may not be as safe as she thought it was. 

My thoughts
I really like the idea of a modern day retelling of Rapunzel, which is a tricky story to update. I especially appreciated the efforts that this author took to adapt the fairytale accordingly. Explaining the fact that Rapunzel lives in one room by giving her a rare illness, and having her meet a boy via Facebook, are two examples. Many of the traditional elements were also kept, like the tower room and Rapunzel's long hair. Unfortunately, as a whole the story didn't work for me.

Because of her life spent indoors, Rapunzel is naive and inexperienced. The only person she's ever seen or interacted with is her mother. She has no friends or peers, has never eaten sweets or played card games. She doesn't know how grass feels or what it's like to ride in a car. And though she has access to the internet, there is only so much information that she can gather there. I enjoyed watching Rapunzel discover many aspects of life that people regularly take for granted. But for me there is a fine line between showing a character to be sheltered and having them come across as too young. Unfortunately, I think Rapunzel's character crossed that line. For a while I thought that I'd stumbled into a Middle Grade (middle school age) book, which is fine. But not how this story is being marketed. However, the storyline got increasingly darker and Rapunzel faced some frightening situations, which made it more suitable for an older audience. I always have trouble reconciling a book that wavers between too young and too dark. 

I also thought that the beginning of the story was extremely weak. The way that Rapunzel discovered Facebook, found Fane, friended him and then almost immediately started conversing with him, seemed too easy, read too young and was incredibly awkward. I understand why Rapunzel would seek out someone to talk to, but every one of her online 'conversations' with Fane were so silly they made me cringe. I nearly gave up on this book because of how unbelievable it all was.

However, Rapunzel Untangled got much more interesting once Fane and Rapunzel met in person. I was drawn along with Rapunzel's emotions as she discovered new elements in the world around her - chocolate, games and pizza. I also really enjoyed the process by which she began to think critically about her life, and question her mother's motives. Despite the fact that I didn't believe how their relationship stated, Fane was the perfect person to help gently push Rapunzel to think and explore. He was great for Rapunzel, but once he encouraged her to step outside of her sheltered existence, I wanted to see her take more initiative for herself. Instead she continued to constantly lean on him.  

One of my favorite aspects of this story is the fact that it was unclear at first whether this retelling would have magic in it, or be a contemporary read. However, I wish the story had maintained more of the contemporary feel throughout. I thought some of the most intriguing aspects of this book were the real life themes of a child kidnapping and madness, which gave the book a more serious feel. And the author did a great job at building a feeling of creeping dread as Rapunzel slowly realized the truth about her mother and her life. Unfortunately, those themes got clouded by an odd fantasy portion that wasn't fully developed. In my opinion, this book would have been stronger if it had been an entirely contemporary read, even if that meant sacrificing some of the more traditional fantasy elements.

A few plot lines and characters didn't go anywhere (which seems absurd with such a small cast), and I felt like there was a lot of potential in this story that was never realized. I also would have liked more at the end, especially regarding Rapunzel's parents and her future. If the more serious themes were going to be introduced, I wanted to see them play out more fully in the story. 

I wish I had enjoyed Rapunzel Untangled better. It had some good ideas but didn't work for me as a whole. I had trouble reconciling several incongruous elements, including the characters reading too young in the beginning with the darker themes at the end, as well as the contemporary feel of the book with the underdeveloped fantasy elements. 

However, I picked up this story because I really enjoyed Cindy C. Bennett's Heart on a Chain, and I would recommend that story instead of this one. I thought that the blend of a sweet romance and swoonworthy hero with heavier themes, was much stronger than this fairytale retelling. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger: Standalone 

*I received this book from Net Gallery in exchange for an honest review. 


  1. Yeah, I can see how this book and this particular fairy tale would be hard to retell in a contemporary setting. Plus I am such a fan of Disney's Tangled, as you well know, that I would always compare:)

    And I also have problems with books that are labeled YA and read like MG. It throws me off as I read. I won't necessarily DNF a book because of this, but it does bother me and lessen my enjoyment of the read overall.

    1. I wish that the author had forgone some of the traditional fantasy elements - like the length of her hair. Maybe have hair she's never cut, but not make it climbable, in favor of exploring the darker themes of why this child was kidnapped and put in a tower, as well as what happens when the sheltered girl starts to realize that she's really trapped.

      It felt like MG at first, but as the story got darker, I would say that it was not appropriate for a younger audience. It also felt more mature as it moved along. Though I agree the book definitely gave off a feeling of having identity issues.

  2. This sounds almost exactly like Tangled (the movie) in reading what you wrote, until you mention that it has darker themes. That's so interesting. I actually just looked to see when it is published, and it looks very very new compared to the movie.

    I really, really love re-tellings when they're done well. LOVE THEM. But I find that they have to be done carefully because of the YA/MG thing. I wouldn't want my girls picking up something that is not age-appropriate for them, ya know? If the book starts out with a younger feel, but becomes increasingly dark, that could be a problem. I'm glad you read this one, Lauren. I'll keep it in the back of my mind for when my girls get a little bit older, I'm sure. Thank you!

    1. I definitely think that Tangled is better! And yes, retelling CAN be fantastic. I love both modern and traditional fairy tale retellings. But unfortunately, this is not the first one that has seemed to confused its genres. I don't think this was meant to be MG at all, Rapunzel just seems so young in the beginning. Part of that is because she has been so sheltered her entire life, and has zero life experience. But I think it is possible to make the character seem naive without having the book read too young. Definitely not for your girls yet, but in the future.

  3. I've never been a huge fan of Rapunzel and I actually STILL don't know how the real fairy tale ends. I am simply obsessed with Tangled though, so I was curious to see how you'd like this one and I'm sorry it was such a disappointment. I think I'll definitely be skipping it and it's curious that it seems to have a mix of too young and too old themes in it. Strange. It's good that there were a few redeeming qualities, but overall, it seems like I should give this author's other novel a shot. Great review, Lauren!(:

    1. Rapunzel is a pretty dark fairy tale if you read the entire thing. Few retellings go that far. This one just had some identity issues that I think if the author had stuck with one or the other, it could have been great. I'm always sad to read a book when I can SEE how much potential is there, but it's not realized. I did really love her other story, though I know it does have some mixed reactions.

  4. I actually haven't seen Tangled and I think what I mainly got from the comments on your review is that I need to make watching that movie a priority. That's probably not your intention with this review ha ha.

    I'm actually a pretty big fan of middle grade books, however, I like my YA to read like YA, ya know. I'm also not a super huge fan of books where the characters are super sheltered, like that requires so much suspension of disbelief, a bit more suspension than I have in me.

    Sucks that this one was disappointing.

    1. That's a great way to look at this review! Definitely check out Tangled. You will not be disappointed, especially if you enjoy Disney animated movies at all.

      And I agree, I like middle grade, I just feel unsettled when the genre's mix. As for sheltered, it would be tricky to write Rapunzel without that element, but I agree that it is tricky to do a modern retelling and make that aspect work.


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