Thursday, 15 June 2017

Review: 'A Whole New World' by Liz Braswell

Who doesn't love Disney movies? I mean, sure, sometimes they're so sugary sweet you want to gag, but they are also intrinsically linked to many of our childhoods in a way that is only rivalled by the Harry Potter books. It is us 20-something year old millennials who are queuing up for Finding Dory and hosting Disney movie nights. And Disney is stepping up its game in bringing out better and better movies (yes, I'm talking about Moana, it's awesome!). So, being as tied to Disney as I am, of course I had to read A Whole New World, an adaptation of the classic Aladdin. And boy was I positively surprised! Thanks to Disney Book Group and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/09/2015
Publisher: Disney Book Group
Welcome to a new YA series that reimagines classic Disney stories in surprising new ways. Each book asks the question: What if one key moment from a familiar Disney film was changed? This dark and daring version of Aladdin twists the original story with the question: What if Jafar was the first one to summon the Genie? When Jafar steals the Genie's lamp, he uses his first two wishes to become sultan and the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Agrabah lives in fear, waiting for his third and final wish.To stop the power-mad ruler, Aladdin and the deposed Princess Jasmine must unite the people of Agrabah in rebellion. But soon their fight for freedom threatens to tear the kingdom apart in a costly civil war.  
What happens next? A Street Rat becomes a leader. A princess becomes a revolutionary. And readers will never look at the story of Aladdin in the same way again.
Adaptations aren't easy, especially when the source material is as beloved as the 1992 Aladdin that gave us Robin Williams as the Genie. Him, more than anything, made this movie a favourite for many children, his sheer enthusiasm and spirit making the Genie an unforgettable character. How do you go about adapting a fairy tale so classic, or any Disney-adapted fairy tale really? Liz Braswell set out to adapt a number of fairytales but with a crucial twist. She calls this series Twisted Tales and has adapted Aladdin, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. This may genuinely be one of the cleverest ways to adapt age old tales; change an aspect and change the whole story. Explore what the characters would do in vastly different situations that are still set in a familiar world.

When A Whole New World started I was a little bit skeptical. It seemed to be following the film way too closely for my liking, even down to dialogue it seemed. Sure, we got some more insight into especially Aladdin's personality, but would that be enough to carry a whole novel? Would the change mentioned in the blurb be enough to actually make this book stand alone? Thankfully, from the moment Aladdin enters the cave, A Whole New World really takes off. Each of the characters now develops along a completely different path and the novel is a lot more complex because of it. Braswell manages to address a whole range of utterly important topics in a book meant for the years 12 and up. Braswell uses Aladdin's position as a street rat to show the face of poverty, the lack of options and choices, the stark divide between the rich and poor within a single city. How should a good sultana look after her people, what should a good government do? How does power corrupt, and is anyone incorruptible? I was consistently and positively surprised every time that Braswell managed to introduce one of these topics and let it resonate within her story. It is social commentary done right for a younger audience, not too obvious or didactic but clear enough that young minds can walk away inspired.

I need to dedicate a few words to how much I loved Jasmine in A Whole New World. While she is an interesting character in Aladdin, she is also a lone female figure in a male world and therefore can't be as active as she would wish. Braswell gives her a lot more agency in a way that never feels disingenuous. As an only daughter without a mother, Jasmine is headstrong and has made sure to educate herself as far as possible. Braswell allows for her to be smart and strong, outspoken and decisive without ever letting male characters "allow" this. As the blurb says, 'a princess becomes a revolutionary' and I loved every second of it. Also, unlike Aladdin, Jasmine isn't the only female character in A Whole New World. There are some people moments with other female characters in this book which made me want to cheer! I would quote some of them but that would be spoiling the fun.

Braswell's writing is perfect for the age she is aiming for, without limiting herself to a children's audience. In this way she definitely does follow in Walt Disney's footsteps, whose movies somehow only get better with age. She describes the fictional Agrabah beautifully, has some great twists and turns and builds up anticipation very well throughout the novel. Although Jafar occasionally feels a little bit like a cliche villain, even he gets a hint at a more extensive backstory. Braswell isn't afraid to go dark, to add real danger to her story and, for once, this danger doesn't feel fake. You're genuinely not entirely sure all her characters will survive until the end. There are real moments of deep emotion, as well as light moments of humour and fun, balancing each other out very well. Here I also must admit to getting a bit emotional while reading about the Genie. I still miss Robin Williams and I adored the way Braswell paid homage to his amazing incarnation of the Genie, as far as she could within her own take on the taleI can't wait to dig into the rest of her Twisted Tales series, if this is what I can expect from Braswell.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I really loved A Whole New World! It was a great take on a beloved classic which added a lot to Disney's tale. I adore how she changed the tale and how she trusted her readers to be able to grapple with some rather serious issues. More authors should trust their readers that way, no matter their age. I'd recommend this to fans of Disney's Aladdin, fairy tale adaptations and YA fiction.

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