With Christmas readily approaching, we now turn to the fun (or not so fun) task of having to be around family for the holidays. While some of us love our families, some are less than thrilled at this prospect, hoping to be able to glide through without a snide remark uttered or awkward silence encountered. It is with this spirit that we turn to The Ugly Duckling Debutante, by Rachel Van Dyken. Sara, our heroine, has one of the latter previously mentioned families. To say that her sisters demean her is an understatement. So, with parallels to Cinderella already forming in my head after reading the plot points on the back cover, I dove into this book unsure of how Van Dyken played with the famous “Cinderella Story” theme. Let’s find out!
Sara hasn’t had the easiest of childhoods. Constantly berated by her parents and older sisters, she grows up accustomed to being called ugly. On the contrary, however, as she transitions into adulthood she becomes more and more beautiful. Despite this, her view of herself is as dour as she has been lead to believe, and to add to this the fact that she is forced to take the place of her sisters for a season (the social events and important endeavors of the time that were placed upon women so that they could become eligible for dating) after they run away and elope. As the family’s only other child, Sara finds that she must marry for wealth in order to save her family from financial ruin. At the same time, Nicholas Devons, Earl of Renwick, is growing tired of his life of debauchery and fornication. He decides to eschew all these pleasures and lead a simple life, marrying the first country girl that he comes into contact with. Before he is able to travel to the country to find a willing woman, he must first help his cousin and teach the ways of the Ton to Sara. When the two meet, sparks ignite. Sara finds Renwick devilishly handsome, but thinks that his attention to her is due to her ugliness. Renwick cannot believe how stunningly beautiful that Sara is, but is convinced that she is just like the rest of the women he knows, manipulative and fake. Will Sara and Renwick ever look past their preconceived notions of each other and find common ground? Will Sara ever begin to gain any self-confidence back from her life of being called ugly? Will Renwick be able to put the deeds of his past behind him?
Van Dyken included lots of little twists in this story that I didn’t see coming. When you first find out more about Sara’s background, as well as Renwick’s motivations for casting off his rock star lifestyle, you wonder how these two seemingly different worlds will intersect. Van Dyken is able to achieve this is an incredibly clever way that I thought added a lot to the novel. Additionally, I really enjoyed Renwick’s character, as you get to see him undergo a complete transformation throughout the novel. It is these types of character developments that I enjoy most, as you get to see someone go from being completely stubborn and set in their ways to a character full of optimism and humility that was not present at all previously.
However, not all is good with this work. Part of me kept wondering how Sara kept believing herself to be ugly. Yes, we’re always reminded that she was constantly told that she is ugly, but I don’t understand that at her age she would continue to believe it, especially with the attention Renwick was giving her as well as the marked attentions of other members of the Ton and her maid. Renwick was obviously attracted to her, as evidenced by his actions.
Despite these few negatives, I definitely found Van Dyken’s The Ugly Duckling Debutante to be exciting and extremely entertaining. If you’re looking for a fun story that pulls you in with a bunch of well placed plot turns, look no further than this book. After reading it you’ll believe that everyone has it in them to change and be a better person!
4 out of 5 Stars
This is my thirty-eighth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge
The Ugly Duckling Debutante by Rachel Van Dyken
Astraea Press (2011)
eBook 610 pages