This was originally published on The Geeky Waffle and has been reposted with permission.
The Cinderella story has been told countless times – sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, but in If The Shoe Fits, Julie Murphy manages to breathe a bubbly, breezy, at times unexpected new life into the story of the girl with the distinctive footwear.
Our Cinderella – here named Cindy Woods – is a shoe designer and recent graduate from Parsons School of Design, with no idea what she wants to do now. The grief of losing her father in her senior year of high school has finally caught up with her, and she is struggling to put herself back together.
Looking for a way to bide her time, she volunteers to play nanny to her three younger half-siblings. Things take a turn almost immediately upon her return home to Los Angeles. Her step-mother, Erica, is the producer of the wildly popular reality TV dating show Before Midnight, and last minute drop outs mean she is a few contestants short. Her co-producer immediately suggests Erica’s daughters Anna and Drew, as well as Cindy. Though her step-mother is initially hesitant, Cindy comes to see the show as the opportunity it is – to get her shoe designs in front of a large audience – and decides to go on the show.
It’s not as though she’s there to fall in love, right? So she has nothing to lose.
Her world is upended yet again when she finally meets the “Suitor” (aka the Bachelor), and realizes they’ve met once before, on the flight to Los Angeles, where they flirted the entire time, but left without exchanging information. The suitor in question, Henry, is the heir to a legacy fashion empire, and is completely, utterly charming from the word go. Really, Julie Murphy, how dare you make my unrealistic expectations even more unrealistic?
As the season of Before Midnight progresses, Cindy and Henry fall more and more in love as they strive to form a real connection in the midst of all the artifice that is reality TV. Their slowly unfolding romance was so sincere, and sweet, it brought a stupid grin to my face every time they were together.
What really struck me about this book, though, is just how unexpected so much of it was. I am extremely familiar with the Cinderella story, as I’m sure many of us are, and while the beats are generally there, Murphy changes just enough about it to keep it interesting.
Cindy’s stepmother and stepsisters, for instance, are not “evil” in the slightest. Her stepsisters love her unconditionally throughout, and her stepmother does too, albeit in her own way. It’s not that she’s cruel to her, but they’re just different kinds of people trying to figure out how to make their relationship work. Erica does want what’s best for Cindy, even if they don’t always agree on what that is.
For instance, her hesitation in letting Cindy go on the show is not because she would rather showcase her daughters instead, but because Erica knows how unforgiving the world can be, and worries that Cindy, as the shows only plus-size contestant, would be subject to an undue amount of scrutiny and cruelty.
I kept waiting for the other shoe – heh – to drop with Erica and it never did. I didn’t know how much I needed that. Murphy lets the cruelty come from the outside world, and makes sure that Cindy’s home life is a functional one. This makes for a much warmer, less stressful read, which is what you want in a book like this.
Cinderella staples like the ball, and the easily lost footwear are here, but reimagined in a context that makes sense for present-day stories. Easter eggs rather than the focus of the plot. I was particularly impressed by the way she “ran away” from Henry during the climax of the novel. Both her reasoning and Murphy’s execution of it were absolutely brilliant. I can’t remember the last time my heart raced while reading a story I know so well. It takes skill to make me feel genuine suspense when I already know the ending.
On the subject of Easter eggs, because this is being published by Disney-Hyperion, there were little nods to the 1950 animated movie. Cindy’s three little siblings are named Jack, Mary and Gus, after three of the mice that befriend Cinderella. Cindy’s middle name “Eleanor” likely comes from Eleanor Audley, who voiced the stepmother Lady Tremaine. And Cindy’s mother, Ilene Woods, is directly named after the actress who played Cinderella. It’s these little nuggets of trivia that I appreciate as a Disney fan!
This book is listed as being the first in a series of reimagined fairy-tales in the “Meant To Be” series, and if this is an indication of where the series is going, then sign me up!
Meant to Be: If the Shoe Fits is out August 3, 2021
Thank you to NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for an advance copy for review purposes.