Lily’s scored a rare audition to get into the London Drama Academy, the school of her dreams, but there are a few problems: she’s only there on probation for one term, her dad wants her to quit acting to learn ‘the family business’, and everyone thinks she’s there just because she’s a rich bitch, not because she’s talented, and someone in particular doesn’t want her there and is out to sabotage her every move. Oh, and there’s a cute mysterious boy with mysterious secrets who mysteriously is drawn to her and talks about mysterious things all teenagers talk about like the meaning of desire because he’s like so totally deep and mysterious.
I’ve always liked boarding school stories, but The Rapunzel Dilemma made me realise how much I love performing school stories as well. In Adi Rule’s Strange Sweet Song, Rule made up an entire opera for the school to perform. In The Rapunzel Dilemma, Jennifer Kloester falls back on something that requires much less work and picks a play in the public domain: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. I did however love the references to classic school plays like The Crucible. However, I actually did attend a performing arts school, and I actually was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and almost nothing the teachers taught the students resembled anything at all I might recognise from my days learning the craft. The teachers kept banging on about the students having to appear ‘otherworldly’ and ‘wise’ and a whole bunch of concepts that they kept yelling to their students about but not actually teaching them how to represent said concepts (physically, emotionally). At one point Lily is accused of appearing shallow and naïve whilst reciting lines, but there was absolutely no improvements offered.
I sure felt sorry for those kids because they didn’t have much guidance at all, and coupled with this weird need to workshop and rehearse the play as different characters before they are even cast, I didn’t find much in common with the performance aspect. In that respect, Adi’s Strange Sweet Song really outshined The Rapunzel Dilemma because Rule really got into the head of the performing student in a way Kloester didn’t. I will however say that I was glad that the role Lily was eventually offered was not one of the traditional roles, even if it appeared a little Mary-Sue-ish. It would have suited me just fine if she’d been cast in the most difficult part, and I think it would have added extra conflict as well.
I didn’t particularly like Lily as a character, because she was a whiny self-indulgent privileged brat who outright refused to accept that her wealth and privilege had given her a shot at the school that other students didn’t have. I certainly don’t think she deserved the horrible things that happened to her, and I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book hoping she’d get out unscathed and figure out who was behind the horrible pranks. But Lily never quite warmed up to me, and neither did the love interest, which was easily spotted from a mile off. They simply had no spark together, no chemistry. It was practically a paint by numbers romance, and I was much more interested in the other aspects of the book.
However Lily’s friendship with Angel was darling to watch, even if they weren’t on page together, and Lily’s tentative friendship with several of the other characters was also nice to watch develop, especially because someone was sabotaging her and making her life hell. I liked watching the dynamics between Lily’s three room mates and every single character in the novel had their own personality and motivation, which was brilliant to see.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that The Rapunzel Dilemma is a modern retelling of Rapunzel, but more takes inspiration from certain aspects. Lily has long hair and she shuts herself in a tower to hide away from the other students. I did like seeing the classic Rapunzel elements brought the life in this way, especially at the climax where I was practically hyperventilating with anxiety only to see the most perfect use of the fairy tale trope found in the original tale.
I also need to add that The Rapunzel Dilemma is being promoted as a ‘companion novel’ to The Cinderella Moment, but I was often lost and confused about all of the events and characters obviously explored in the first novel. I’d recommend reading The Cinderella Moment first, and I think I’ll track it down so I can make more sense of The Rapunzel Dilemma. They should be first and second in a series, not companion novels.
However all of that being said the book was brilliantly written and it certainly didn’t stop me from really enjoying it and every aspect, even if I found the performing stuff weird, Lily unlikeable and the romance lukewarm. If you’re interested in performance school stories or quirky interpretations of fairy tales, then I’d really recommend The Rapunzel Dilemma because I just wanted to keep reading it despite its obvious flaws.
Thanks to Penguin Australia and Netgalley for providing a free review copy for an honest review.