For seventeen-year-old Ashley St. Helens, senior year is an endless stressfest with no hope in sight. Since her parents' death, she's had to deal with her micro-managing step-monster and her two narcissist step-sisters, whose fashion fetishes just make Ashley feel worse about her oversized feet. With dirty dishes and stinky laundry piling up at home, it seems that the Universe has deemed her the real-life Cinderella, especially since popular Jeff Prince has forgotten she exists. With help from her drag queen fairygodwhatever—and just the right shoes—Ashley finds her voice and fights back against the "perfect" materialistic life that traps her. But will her soulful transformation translate into the life she wants to have? Will she be able to escape to college, or will she have to give up on that dream? Post-modern, colorful, and quirky, Kristen Caven paints a relatable picture of teenage insecurities that will inspire readers to spark new conversations with their families about responsibility and empathy, morality and wastefulness, life choices, cross-dressing, and best of all, cleaning the house. A must-read for anyone who loves vintage footwear! This updated fourth edition includes bonus materials such as essays by the main characters and songs from the musical.
There's a major flaw in the Cinderella story, and it's this: if the shoe fits her so perfectly, why on earth does it fall off when she runs from the prom? I fixed that in my version. Take a peek at the source of Ashley's unique teenage body issues in this excerpt, in which her godfather Harry is urging her to go to prom.
How does the daughter of the house become the household slave? Cinderella is so full of mysteries! There must be something in it for her, I always thought. Many years after I wrote this someone coined the term "Rage Cleaning." I imagined Ashley not as a put-upon victim but someone taking control of her own shitty circumstances. In this passage we see our girl stepping up and finding the spiritual rewards inherent in taking care of your space. We'll see this theme come around again in the last chapter, when Ashley removes herself from her past and helps her stepsisters prepare to take care of themselves.
Most fairytales don't talk about the grief children feel when they are orphaned, but can you imagine? Losing both parents? I gave the Cinderella character the time and space to feel her feelings in this novel. She experiences anxiety, depression, plus the intensity and distraction of ADHD. All of the books in THE FAIRYTALE REALITY PROJECT deal with the reality of childhood trauma. In my non-fiction book, The Bullying Antidote, I relate ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) to bullying—and in my fairytale explorations I make space for the real psychological consequences of emotional loss and abuse. As a Positive Psychology teacher, one of my secret missions is to present real-life strategies for creating upward spirals, a.k.a. "happily ever afters."
"The Souls of Her Feet" started out as a musical, with the song "If the Shoe Fits" as the centerpiece. Actually, it started out as the first part of an opera trittico called "Shoes, a Mirror, and a Big, Pink Rose," and later became a stand-alone story. In the full version, Harry delivers his philosophy about the meta-shoe in an actual shoe store. The novel is closer to the original version, where Harry appears in Ashley's bedroom. But in the musical, dancing girls appear out of nowhere to form a kick-line wearing every kind of shoe. Imagine that while you read this! A novel allows for a more intimate, internal dialogue, which is what you witness here. But do flip to the back of the book, when you buy it, to read the delicious lyrics to the song! The publisher wanted them added to this edition.
I gave my high school Latin teacher a cameo in the climactic Cinderell-ish chase scene, and quoted our class motto. I loved Latin class. It was one of the few places in high school where you didn't have to be cool. I remember going to Junior Classical League camp in the Rocky Mountains, dressing up as Greek or Roman characters for the dance. If only proms were that much fun! We also had chariot races on tricycles. Thanks, Mrs. Armor, wherever you are, for making learning so much fun!
In this scene, Ashley gets her first glimpse of her godfather, upon whom she has not laid eyes since her parents died. She had no idea then that he had an alter-ego as a drag queen. Larger-than-life Harry Carrington (a.k.a. Carrie D'Aweigh) was inspired by a (closeted) gay family member who was able to reach into my miserable teenage existence like some sort of emotional fairy godmother. This person took me to see the forbidden Rocky Horror Picture Show and assured me that I was good and incorruptible and life was more fun than my strict stepmother and stressed-out father allowed. This glimpse into the world of drag inspired me to free myself through the art of outrageous dress-up. When I wrote this book, I was longing to see more positive expressions of queerness inside 'normal' family life. The world has always been 10% gay, and it's a huge relief to see the world accepting that now. The first staged reading of the musical version of The Souls of Her Feet featured a real live, over-the-top famous New York drag queen! He really enjoyed playing Harry, who is as complex and interesting as he is classically delightful. Harry's ability to see gender as a fluid and playful space allows Ashley to fully participate in her own magical transformation.
When you write in first person, everyone thinks your story is autobiographical. I kind of wish this one was... I mean, wouldn't YOU like to have had a fabulous drag queen magically appear in your bedroom and help you get dressed for prom? On the other hand, I'm glad this one isn't... because my own parents are alive and well! There are a few things in this first chapter that are autobiographical. I did have a stepmother, who taught me how to fold towels. My father did say "let's have all the kids be 'our kids.' And my first word, as a baby, was "Thanks," when I took a bottle. (Except I pronounced it 'Hank.' Awww! How cute is that?)
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