Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy: The Chronicles of Never After, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy: The Chronicles of Never After, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Lively fairy tale romp explores adoption, bullying, magic.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Besides being packed with a lot of local detail for Southern California (check out the Bridge to Nowhere), The Thirteenth Fairy is a celebration of words -- Filomena's parents are both writers, so words like "ziggurat," "ingenious," and "flabbergasted" crop up, along with day-to-day details about a writer's life, like word.counts and deadlines. Some well-known fairy tales get surprising treatments.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about family, friendship, courage, and teamwork. Adoption and diversity are strong themes.

Positive Role Models

In a version of "Sleeping Beauty," the Thirteenth Fairy goes to heroic and fateful lengths to protect the infant princess. Overprotected by her parents (for good reason, as it turns out) and bullied at school, Filomena is happiest when reading the Never After books. She shows courage, resourcefulness, empathy, and adaptability when she finds herself in that world. Besides being cute, Jack (of beanstalk fame) has risen above personal tragedy to protect others and build a team of allies against the ogres. Filomena's adoptive parents are Asian American and British, and she knows nothing of her birth parents or why she looks like she does: "curly dark hair, dark brown eyes, and skin the color of maple syrup." her parents have gone to heroic lengths to give their daughter a safe and happy life -- and pivot beautifully to support her when her reality changes.

Violence

Filomena is regularly bullied, physically, verbally, and online, at the expensive private school her parents pay big bucks for, and the administration does nothing. Tired of being slapped around, she casts a time-freezing spell on the bullies in mid-beating. In the land of Never After, an ogre has murdered the queen, taken her place with the spellbound king, and plans to devour the late queen's infant daughter. Plentiful weaponry, hacking, slashing, stabbing, and magical mayhem, with a considerable body count of peripheral characters. The ogres have wreaked a lot of bloody havoc: Some characters are the last survivors of their families and are traumatized by witnessing their loved ones' agonized deaths. On the other hand, some of the characters who died in traditional fairy tales are alive and well here, and astonished when Filomena tells them the version she knows.

Sex

There's more than a little attraction between Filomena and Jack, but it doesn't get beyond awkward moments and each thinking the other is cute. Her mom writes romantic fiction. "Filomena isn't allowed to read her mother's books yet, which is why she's very knowledgeable about them. Especially because her classmates bully her by demanding to know whether she's read certain pages. Page 157 of Mum's latest book is exceptionally saucy."

Language

One "badass," one "little bugger."

Consumerism

Brief mention of Filomena's fondness for British Kit-Kat bars. Comic moments as Never After characters are stuck in Southern California with a map that refers them to garbled versions of real businesses, e.g. the Palace of the Golden Arches and the Inside-and-Out Burger.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine is served at banquets. Adults are seen drinking it.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy is the first installment in the Chronicles of Never After series by best-selling author Melissa de la Cruz. It's about 12-year-old Filomena Jefferson-Cho, a bookish, bullied suburban kid who's suddenly transported to the world of her favorite fantasy series, where it's really handy that she knows her way around so well and has such a good command of spells. The title refers to a character in a new, "true" version of the Sleeping Beauty legend, who struggles to protect the infant princess against a murderous villain who's killed the queen and can't wait to devour her child. The land of Never After is full of familiar fairy-tale characters in different situations (particularly the fact that the families of many heroes have been murdered by the ogres who've seized power). In her everyday world, Filomena's beaten and insulted by school bullies until she casts a spell on them. Hand-to-hand fighting, battle scenes, magical thunderbolts and other forces account for a lot of violent death, maiming, and other trauma. Family, friendship, and being true to yourself are strong themes, with many funny, heart-filled moments. Filomena's adopted, her dad's Korean Filipino, her mom's English, and she doesn't look like either of them; she wants to learn where she came from. The last chapter sets up the first of many adventures to follow.

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What's the story?

Following a brief prologue set in the past, in which THE THIRTEENTH FAIRY realizes she's going to have to take extraordinary measures to protect her infant niece from a horrible fate, the story shifts to the happy, peaceful real-life Southern California suburb of North Pasadena, where 12-year old Filomena Jefferson-Cho lives with her adoptive parents. Her dad is Filipino Korean, Mum is British. Filomena is brown-skinned, curly-haired, and knows nothing of her birth parents. Her parents -- both writers -- are way overprotective, which doesn't keep Filomena from getting bullied -- physically, mentally, and online-- by the school clique she calls the Fettucine Alfredos (after their preferred takeout lunch), for whom her onetime BFF has ditched her. Her main joy in life is the series of fairy tale books set in the kingdom of Never After, whose much-anticipated 13th and final volume is the reason her parents, who never let her go anywhere alone, agreed to let her go to the bookstore after a truly awful day at school. But she arrives there only to learn the worst--there is no 13th book. The author has vanished, and the publisher has been stringing the audience along for 12 volumes now in the vain hope she'll reappear. Stunned by the news, Filomena starts to make her way home (whistle and personal alarm at the ready), when she notices a guy following her, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Jack Stalker, lead character in the Never After series. For unknown reasons, he knocks her to the ground just before thunderbolts start wrecking the surrounding buildings. What is he even doing there, what's with the thunderbolts, and what do the Fettucine Alfredos have to do with it? Much is revealed as Filomena finds herself actually in Never After, feeling very at home in some ways and in others, definitely not.

Is it any good?

Melissa de la Cruz's lively, heart-filled tale of a bookish, bullied suburban tween who lands in the world of her beloved fairy tale series will resonate with readers young and old. If you've ever wanted to live in your favorite fictional world and hang out with its characters instead of being stuck with the day-to-day hassles of the one you're actually in, you'll love to be along for the ride as Filomena Jefferson-Cho finds herself doing exactly that in The Thirteenth Fairy, first installment in the Chronicles of Never After. In her suburban middle school, Filomena's abused, physically and otherwise, by school bullies. In Never After, she and her new friends --a ll characters in the books -- are in a sometimes deadly struggle against a villain who's already killed many of their families.

Leavening the violence are a number of sweet moments and a good deal of humor, including a lot of in-jokes for local kids about Southern California landmarks and their unsuspected connection with Never After. This clever series start it sets up promising adventures to come.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy plays with the familiar "Sleeping Beauty" legend. Why do you think creating a "true" version of something is such a popular theme in fiction? What other stories do you know that claim to be the real version of what happened in a fairy tale? How do you think The Thirteenth Fairy compares with them? 

  • Like, Filomena, lots of heroes grow up with adoptive parents -- and make life-changing discoveries involving their birth parents. What others can you think of? Why do you think storytellers enjoy exploring this theme? 

  • Have you ever wanted to just go live with your favorite book characters instead of.being stuck where you are? Where would you go if you could?

Book details

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For kids who love fantasy and middle school tales

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