Rapunzel lives a charmed life, high in her isolated tower. She has everything a girl could want: magic roses, beautiful clothes, and books full of stories that are all about her. Stories in which evil, lying princes try to lure her away from her home and into the frightening world beyond, but she resists them and is safe.
Yes, you read that right.
Megan Morrison’s “Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel” (first in her Tyme series) is full of twists on the old story of the girl with the very long hair. And not just any old twists. Readers who think they’ve seen every conceivable twist there could be on a fairytale will be surprised and pleased to find that Morrison has somehow managed to come up with new and very enjoyable ones.
In this version of the story, Rapunzel, as indicated above, has led a perfectly sheltered life, until a peasant named Jack startles her by breaking into her tower, and claiming that a fairy is dying and it’s all her fault. The Witch who takes care of Rapunzel scares Jack off and convinces the bewildered girl that he was lying. But when Witch is gone, Jack returns . . . and before she knows it, Rapunzel has left her beloved tower and embarked on an adventure that will change her forever.
Morrison is a superb writer, creating an exciting and quirky fantasy world that is, like all the best fantasy worlds, firmly grounded in the realities of human nature. She gives us strong, interesting, complex characters, especially Rapunzel. The young girl who has lived in the lap of luxury — so ignorant that she doesn’t even know what a mother or father is, and has never heard of feelings like guilt or grief — goes on an emotional journey that forces her to grow up quickly, and changes her thinking and her life forever.
The moral themes here are complex and sometimes subtle, but even middle-schoolers who can’t always grasp them completely will nonetheless absorb some good and helpful ideas. After fighting it for a long time, to the point of exasperating everyone around her, Rapunzel finally has to face the hard truth that the Witch whom she saw as a mother figure has exploited and abused her. And then, in the light of that knowledge, she has to learn some tough lessons about how to forgive, even while refusing to compromise what she now knows to be right. It’s a lot for a sheltered young girl to handle, but the way Rapunzel manages it is moving and inspiring.
Jack too is an admirable character, brave, loyal, and kind. Though he and Rapunzel don’t always see eye-to-eye, and are both sometimes too stubborn for their own good, they both learn something and grow into better people through their friendship.
“Grounded” has some descriptions of violence, but nothing very explicit or disturbing. There are no graphic sexual references, but there is a scene where a very embarrassed Jack is forced to explain to Rapunzel, who is curious about her long-lost family, how mothers and fathers have children. We don’t see what he actually tells her, and the scene is played as light comedy (“His voice cracked, and when he was finished, he strode off ahead of her and put several paces’ distance between them. Rapunzel was disgusted.”).
With “Grounded,” Morrison has fashioned a fairy story that will enchant middle-schoolers and make their parents happy, too. I look forward to seeing further entries in her Tyme series.
Image copyright Arthur A. Levine Books. Review copy obtained from the reviewer’s local library.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.