By Kelsey Macke
Available now from Spencer Hill Contemporary
Imogen Keegan knows she's the ugly stepsister. Heck, her stepsister is named Ella Cinder. But her stepsister moving in is just another thing going wrong in her life. There's her mother's death, her weight gain, her hopeless crush on her best friend, and her depression.
Imogen is not an easy heroine to like. She's unhappy with herself, and tends to think badly of others in return. She has very little empathy. Debut author Kelsey Macke, however, understands that her heroine is no angel. Throughout the book, people tell Imogen when she goes to far, or she eventually realizes that for herself. Often, she judged people harshly before they could judge her, and she learns that maybe she should get to know people a bit more before making such decisions. Macke also maintains a careful balance with Imogen's depression. It colors how Imogen sees the world and her struggle is very sympathetic, but it is also not a free pass to treat other people badly.
DAMSEL DISTRESSED will appeal strongly to artsy YA fans. Imogen is in charge of the sound booth for the school musical, Once Upon a Mattress. All of her close friends are involved in the crew in some way. There is art before each chapter, and Macke recorded an album with her duo (Wedding Day Rain) to accompany the book. It adds some nice layers to the whole package.
DAMSEL DISTRESSED also has a lot of appeal for fans of contemporary YA retellings and books that deal with serious issues with humor. Imogen's difficulties are definitely lightened by her own humor and that of her closest friends. The Cinderella angle is a nice hook, but DAMSEL DISTRESSED diverges quite a bit to be its own story. There is a Prince Charming, but he's no distant, half drawn figure. In addition to depression, bullying figures prominently, as does Imogen's acceptance of her weight. There's quite a bit going on, but it all gels.