The Cinderella Society, by Kay Cassidy (Egmont USA, 2010)

Perennial “new girl” Jess Parker is an outcast at school, unable to fit in despite making the cheerleading squad as an incoming junior. In fact, she’s the prime target of Lexy Steele, one of the resident mean girls. Is it any wonder that Jess is absolutely stunned when she’s picked to join The Cinderella Society, a secret organization of popular girls dedicated to making the world a better place?

An initiation ceremony and fabulous makeover later, Jess has a new circle of friends, newfound confidence, a blossoming new relationship (with Lexy’s brother, Ryan, of all people) and a new purpose in life. Now she’s part of an ongoing struggle between the “Cindies” who try to help people in secret, and the “Wickeds” who use blackmail and other despicable methods to rule the masses … and Lexy’s her opposite number among the Wickeds. Now Jess has to find her inner strength in order to live up to her new responsibilities and potential, while figuring out what the Wickeds have in store for the innocent bystanders of their high school. But will Jess go too far in her crusade to help one troubled person?

What we have here is a rather odd book. Honestly, when I saw “Cinderella” in the title and “battle of good vs evil” in the cover copy, I was expecting something in the paranormal range, perhaps dealing with fairy godmothers and evil stepsisters. What I found was an awkward blend of self-help “girl power” propaganda, and secret society intrigue. It starts off with Jess’ induction into a mysterious sorority-like group of do-gooders who find their inner strengths through personal makeovers and sisterly support of one another. However, even as Jess is being taught to find her inner strength and coordinate outfits to match, she’s learning about the secret struggle between two far-flung groups of women. It’s as though the stereotypical “mean girls” in every school and community were all part of an organization bent on world domination, while being opposed by animal shelter volunteers and cheerleaders.

Now, don’t get me wrong; there’s clearly a great concept here. I’m a big fan of eternal struggles between good and evil, secret societies, and that ilk. Unfortunately, in this case it’s hard to take the whole package seriously. It’s quite well written, and a fun read, but the elements don’t mesh perfectly. The self-empowerment change-your-life girl-power aspects clash with the intrigue and mystery.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that, since I’m not a teenage girl, I’m not the target audience. There’s a disconnect between what I was expecting, and what I found, and this is sure to find eager acceptance among those who need a booster shot of courage, idealism, self-confidence, romance, and empowerment. The messages it contains are valuable and crystal-clear, even if the packaging could stand a little improvement.

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