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Told in present-tense, this evocative and emotionally compelling retelling of the fairy tale "Rapunzel" alternates between the various characters' points of view: Zel, the heroine; her "witch" mother; and Konrad, the count who grows to love Zel. Set in 16th century Switzerland during the Reformation, Zel and her mother live isolated on a small farm, or alm, high up in the Alps. As ZEL opens, mother and daughter are preparing to depart for their yearly trip to town. Unfortunately, that's when all the trouble starts.

An innocent and guileless creature approaching her 13th birthday, Zel has the power to charm anyone she meets, man and beast alike. And when she enchants Meta, the young count's high-strung mare, she also captures the count's heart with her forthright manner. What the count doesn't know is that he has also captured Zel's heart. Her highly intuitive mother picks up on the change in her daughter and, not long after their return to the farm, she imprisons her in the tower so central to this familiar tale.

It is through Napoli's retelling, however, that we learn what has driven this mother to such lengths just to keep her daughter with her, no matter the price. Unable to bear a child, her obsession drove her to give herself up to the powers of darkness in order to have a daughter. In exchange, she was granted the ability to command plants; and she used that power to frighten and then extort a newborn babe from a peasant couple who was guilty only of stealing rapunzel, a kind of lettuce, from her garden. Rich in characterization and detail and highly suspenseful, ZEL is a darkly powerful story of abuse in the name of love.

Reviewed by Tammy L. Currier on September 1, 1996

by Donna Jo Napoli

  • Publication Date: September 1, 1996
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0525456120
  • ISBN-13: 9780525456124