Dream Factory

by Brad Barkley and Heather Helper
ages: 13+
First sentence: “I wasn’t at all surprised when Cinderella gave me the finger.”
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There are expectations for any fluff book, especially one with a pink cover and a glass slipper on it. The measure of the book, in the end, is how well it lived up to those expectations.

The character actors at Walt Disney World — you know: the people who walk around shaking hands and posing for pictures — are on strike. Since Disney is Disney and cannot be shut down, they resort to hiring older teens, those just graduated from high school, or are in their early years of college, to fill those slots. No auditioning necessary: you get to be whichever costume fits you best.

Which is why, her name notwithstanding, Ella ends up as Cinderella. She spends her days in a ball gown, getting married like clockwork at 3, having her Prince Charming — who’s really not a bad guy, and a halfway decent kisser, even if there aren’t any sparks — chase her down. She has friends, but the one person she feels like she really connects with is Luke.

Luke has ended up being the less cool half (if there is such a thing) of Cphip and Dale. He spends his days sweating in a fur animal costume, hiding from the life that waits for him back home. His girlfriend, Cassie, is everything he should want in a girl: smart, beautiful, fun. But, he finds Ella fascinating, and interesting, and not a little captivating.

So, since the question really isn’t will these two get together — because obviously, the nature of the book demands that they do — the whole point of the book is to enjoy how these two get together. And, while the alternating narrative chapters was fun, the rest of the story kind of fell flat. It almost seemed like the authors were trying to channel Maureen Johnson crossed with Sarah Dessen, but both of them do it much much better. The book lacks the swoonworthiness (yes, I just made up that word) and frivolity of MJ’s books; there just isn’t a whole lot of chemistry between Ella and Luke. There wasn’t any tension, there wasn’t any playfulness, and I swear if a character cut their eyes at another character one more time, I was going to scream.) Perhaps it was because, playing with issues of identity and reality, the authors were trying for the issue-heavy romances like Dessen. Except she expertly balances the issues and the romance, never letting one outweigh the other, and creating something that is quite satisfying in the end.

It’s fluff and it was fun. It just wasn’t all that I had hoped it would be.

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