Book review by
Pam Gelman, Common Sense Media
Fairest Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Handmaid to queen discovers true beauty in charming fantasy.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 33 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

True beauty is beneath the surface. Love and respect from family and friends help one to overcome low self-esteem.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aza is kind, smart, competent, and gifted in song, and she learns that true beauty is under the skin. 


A girl is gagged, tied up, and left in a dungeon cell, then threatened to be killed by a guard or eaten by ogres. Poisoning by apple also threatens death.


Innocent words of love exchanged. Some hand-holding, kissing.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Gail Carson Levine's Fairest is a fairy tale from the author of Ella Enchanted. The heroine, Aza, is refreshingly less attractive than your average protagonist and suffers from quite a bit of self-doubt because of it. Aza is tricked and imprisoned in a dungeon where she's tied up with a gag in her mouth. When she escapes, there's the threat of being killed by a guard or eaten by an ogre. Innocent words of love exchanged, and there's some hand-holding and kissing.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byindie_q February 1, 2015

Fascinating Journey of finding true beauty.

Aza is young girl who is very different from the rest of the people in her kingdom. She lives with her family in a small inn they run. One day she receives the... Continue reading
Adult Written bylollipop7720231 November 3, 2011


it will teach kids on it to judge people by how they look just whats on the inside!
Kid, 10 years old August 19, 2019


I think Fairest is a story for 9 year olds because age 8 and under might not be able to handle the danger, deception, and overall drama. Fairest is the Snow Whi... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCreature of The Deep August 16, 2019

What's the story?

Left as a baby, Aza is found by a loving innkeeper and wife who raise her as their own. She grows up to be large and not pretty, causing her shame and low self-esteem. But, she is kind and has a gift for song, making curious guests drawn to her, including a wise gnome and a duchess. She is invited to the castle as the handmaid for the king's wedding to a mysterious young woman from another land. This new queen befriends Aza and learns of Aza's gift of song and the ability to "illuse": to mimic any voice and throw it so it appears that someone else is singing. The queen threatens to harm Aza's family unless Aza illuses a voice for her at the kingdom Sings. The prince also is intrigued by Aza, and much to Aza's pleasant surprise they develop a friendship. Aza learns that the queen has been given beauty through a magical mirror from the Fairy Lucinda, the same one in the book Ella Enchanted. A creature lives in the mirror, giving the queen poor advice on running the kingdom while the king is ill. Aza's illusing is soon revealed but not before she goes to the mirror and asks for beauty. With physical beauty, the problems begin for Aza, including imprisonment and a run-in with a poison apple.

Is it any good?

Author Gail Carson Levine has mastered the art of twisting fantasy and creating interesting characters that are likable and somehow relatable to today's kids. Aza is smart, competent, and gifted in song, a highly honored and valuable means of communication in this society. She also can illuse. This skill becomes the tool for the newly married, beautiful young queen to win the hearts of the kingdom.

And so follows a story with adventure, love, and fantasy with a thread common to the tale Sleeping Beauty and a lesson about recognizing what true beauty is.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Aza is a good and kind person worth rooting for. Is it because she grows up in a house of love and respect? 

  • How is Fairest different form other princess stories? Why do you think princess stories remain popular in modern culture? 

  • Can you relate to Aza's feelings about herself and how others judge her? How did it feel as a reader to hear Aza's description of herself as a "blemish" or others calling her an "ogre"? Does this make you feel differently about first impressions and judging others?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate