The Search for Happily Ever After

Patricia Baehr

BridgeWater Books. $13.95


So the rat makes Ketti an offer she can't refuse: come with me, help me find a prince to wake the Sleeping Beauty, and we will all find our happily-ever-afters. The rat says he had been the coachman for Cinderella's pumpkin carriage, and now he wants to be human again: the fairy godmother had promised everyone a happy ending. Ketti is just the unhappy middle child of a normal twentieth century family -- and whoever heard of a talking rat anyway? But her parents seem to like her sisters more than they like Ketti, and Ketti follows the rat through a wormhole to a land of fairy tales...

...where Hansel and Gretel have reached middle age, and princesses don't laugh at the golden goose anymore because everyone already knows the joke, and Briar Rose is just days away from the end of her hundred year sleep. Ketti and the rat now have to find a prince to kiss the sleeping princess, while the wicked witch who cast the spell tries everything in her power to stop them.

The Search for Happily-Ever-After is a disappointing book. Patricia Baehr's plot and characters are shallow, the lessons Ketti must learn baldly obvious, and the repetition of the phrase "happily ever after" is quickly tiresome. Ketti is completely obsessed with achieving her own happily-ever-after, and every time she fails to see the clues to understanding her own situation she becomes that much more frustrating for the reader.

She is certainly given enough opportunities to understand: the witch and the godmother as an example of sibling rivalry taken to an extreme; her own doubts about the Twelve Dancing Princesses episode, where getting what you wished for may not be what you needed; the rat's realization about love and caring which echoes her parents' earlier statements; Cinderella's blunt explanation that what she had wanted to "to be loved," not to be better. Ketti's revelation and understanding finally happen just before she leaves her new friends and the fairy tale land. This is followed by a gratuitous chapter where her older sister, not quite out-of-the-blue, tells her "You have the best imagination, Ketti."

This may be Ketti's story, but it is the rat who is most carefully thought out. Unfortunately Baehr does not follow through with him the way you might expect. After Ketti is nearly killed by the witch, he says, "When you were hurt by the witch's spell, I discovered something: I can't be happy if you aren't." It seems that this should have been a turning point in their quest -- not only an opportunity for Ketti to understand her parents, but for the rat to have come to some different, if quiet, decision about his future (willing to give up becoming human, if necessary). Instead, the rat kisses Sleeping Beauty himself and becomes, not merely human, but a prince. Baehr obviously had this in mind from the beginning (the godmother's prophetic words were "Be a prince") but she has stuck with her chosen plot at the expense of a potentially stronger and more interesting ending.

 

This review copyright 2000 by Wendy Morris


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