The sweet and the ugly

The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back - Sariah Wilson

Clean, cute and sweet. How often such adjectives apply to YA fiction these days? They all apply to this book, and although I don’t belong to its target readership, I enjoyed this quirky teenage romance.

Its protagonist Mattie is the ugly stepsister, or she thinks she is. Very insecure beside her beautiful, petite stepsister Ella, Mattie is steeped in her teenage angst.


  • She loves the most desirable boy at school, but there is no way he could like her back.
  • She is a talented manga artist but there is no way anyone could appreciate her art.
  • She is tall and curvy, a man’s wet dream, but there is no way anyone could like her clumsy ways, when her blonde cheerleader stepsister Ella is around. 


You get the drift, right? So instead of doing anything positive, she hides behind a mask of a snarky, dressed-in-black hoyden with fuchsia-colored hair and conceals her sketchbook from anyone. And she blames her misfortunes on her pretty stepsister.

Until a series of events forces her out of her comfort-zone disguise and she has to reevaluate everyone around her, including herself. Growing up is always hard, and unmasking yourself is an agonizing process. The author is painfully honest as she writes about Mattie’s self-discovery journey. Despite setbacks and self-doubts, Mattie muddles through, striving for truth and love, stumbling but getting up again.     

I liked her. I understood her wish to cringe when she looked in the mirror, her jealousy, and her love-struck puppy’s idiosyncrasies. She is a good girl… deep inside. Her only sin is total self-absorption. She doesn’t see anyone beside herself and isn’t interested in anyone else’s plight.

Vulnerable and egotistic – how often such traits go hand in hand in teenagers. They are egotistic because they’re so vulnerable, so full of insecurities. They need constant confirmation from the adults – teachers and parents – but can’t admit it even to themselves, so they fake insouciance and act like brats. They desperately need acceptance from their peers, so they parrot each other… to seem original.

Mattie reminds me of my daughter, when she was the same age. Just like my daughter once upon a time, Mattie practically always behaves stupidly and makes mistakes, but her integrity pulls her through every time, and eventually she reaches her happily-ever-after. Or at least, the ‘happy now.’

The pacing of this novel is fast, although the events it describes are very insignificant – in my opinion. But from Mattie’s perspective, they must be huge: a class project in partnership with her secret sweetheart, a spat with the class’s certifiable bitch, a stolen drawing, an almost kiss.

The writing is perfect, flowing without a hitch. I’m a grammar nerd and I haven’t spotted even one spelling mistake, which is an extremely rare occurrence for indie writers. This book was a pleasure to read from the English purist’s point of view.

It was also fun to read. Hilarious situations popped out of the pages like little jokers, and the dialog sparkled, quick and witty, with a spattering of teenage lingo to make it authentic. I smiled more often than not as I read it. Sometimes though, the mood of the tale changed so swiftly the switch made me dizzy: from funny to poignant in one line.

I’m pretty sure I started saying some unkind things about calculus’s mother under my breath because Jake raised one eyebrow and looked over at me. “Jeez, what did calculus ever do to you?”

“Here’s the thing. Math and I broke up two years ago, and now whenever we get together it’s just weird and awkward for both of us.”

He laughed. Laughed and laughed and I couldn’t believe that I’d made him laugh like that. It made me feel all bubbly and warm inside and suddenly I didn’t want anything but to make Jake Kinston laugh over and over again.  

Sentimental? Yes, a bit. But her love is so heartwarming too.

If I had to pinpoint this novel’s exact genre I would call it chic lit in high school.