The Ingenue by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

My Rating: 3 stars

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the ARC! This book came out on December 6 2022 and is now available for purchase.

The Ingenue follows Saskia as she returns to her childhood home, the Elf House, upon the death of her mother. This former piano prodigy has mixed feelings about coming back, and things become even more complicated when she finds out the her mother has unexpectedly left the family estate to Patrick, the much older man Saskia was in a ‘relationship’ with as a teenager. As Saskia struggles to contest the will, she must also come to terms with her past. I found the book immensely readable and flew through it. I particularly liked the dual timeline; each chapter begins with a section from Saskia’s childhood before moving on to the present. It gives the reader a full picture of events while still providing suspense for how it will all play out.

I read Kapelke-Dale’s debut novel The Ballerinas in 2021, and while I enjoyed it, I did find some flaws. Unfortunately, these same flaws are magnified in The Ingenue. I took issue with the overly sensational ending, though I will give Kapelke-Dale credit for not leaving a major event until the very last moment this time. The social commentary also felt even more over the top here than in her previous novel. I want to make it clear: I believe that literature absolutely should be exploring the sexism and violence women face. And Kapelke-Dale mostly handles the subject well, just as she did in her previous novel. The relationship between Saskia and Patrick feels realistic and incredibly uncomfortable. However, there are some moments that feel too over the top and border on unbelievable.

My biggest issue with the book was the children’s book series Saskia’s mother wrote: Fairy Tales for Little Feminists. They reimagine classic fairy tales from a feminist standpoint, and each chapter begins with a short excerpt from one of them. As a big fairy tale fan, I thought this would be something I’d love. However, I found them so over the top and cringey. Many of them are also based on the Disney versions of the tales, which was the part that irritated me the most. There is a mention of the Beast being unpleasant and treating Beauty poorly, which simply isn’t in line with any variation of the original fairy tale. And one of the dwarfs in “Snow White” is called Grumpy. To me, using the Disney versions felt like a rather lazy copout.

Overall, The Ingenue is an engaging and enjoyable read, and I would recommend it despite the issues I had.

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