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Zel Mass Market Paperback – November 1, 1998

106 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As she has done for The Frog Prince and Hansel and Gretel, Napoli here visits her magic upon the tale of Rapunzel, creating a work of depth and beauty. In mid-16th-century Switzerland, Zel, on the threshold of adolescence, accompanies her mother on a rare trip from their remote cottage to the village. By chance she meets a youth named Konrad; unknown to her, he is the son of the count, and he is charmed by her apparent simplicity and forthright manner. Napoli gently guides the reader through the inevitable consequences of this meeting, mining every movement in the fairy tale for its psychological treasures. Zel's mother, no longer a routine villainess, has sacrificed everything, even her soul, for the witchcraft that enables her to have a daughter; a desperate fear of Konrad's attentions drives her to imprison Zel in the famous tower. Isolated, Zel wavers between recognition of her mother's sacrifices and her own fury, and wanders into madness. Konrad, meanwhile, must discover the difference between love and obsession. Napoli imagines the precise quality of the mother's supernatural powers, the colors of the stones in Zel's tower, the rustle of the trees in the forest. But the genius of the novel lies not just in the details but in its breadth of vision. Its shiveringly romantic conclusion will leave readers spellbound. Ages 11-up.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up?This retelling of the story of Rapunzel is no simple fairy tale retold for the entertainment of children. Instead, it is a searing commentary on the evil that can result from human longings gone awry. Napoli sets the novel in 16th-century Switzerland and alternates the various characters' points of view. Zel and Count Konrad's narratives are presented in the third person, while Mother tells her own story. All are told in the present tense. Readers learn that the barren mother's obsession for a child drove her to give herself up to eternal damnation in order to have a daughter. Now, she seeks to keep the child away from the world so that the innocent girl will choose her mother above all others. That this will mean Zel's damnation also does not deter Mother in the least. When the inevitable happens and Zel meets the young man, Mother locks her away in a tower. Unlike most versions, this story realistically portrays the dismal effects of isolation on the girl's mind and spirit. She goes quite mad but is still able to accept Konrad's love when he finds her at last. Konrad's transformation from arrogant noble to a man with an obsessive love for a girl he barely knows is less realistic but follows the traditional story line. In his final confrontation with Mother, evil appears to have triumphed. Even the eventual "happily ever after" ending cannot clear the air of the darkness that pervades this tale. Mother's fatal possessiveness and the horror of Zel's life in the tower are the dominant themes that readers will remember. This version, with its Faustian overtones, will challenge readers to think about this old story on a deeper level. It begs for discussion in literature classes.?Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Mass Market Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Puffin Books; Reprint edition (November 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141301163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141301167
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 0.5 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #475,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For all information about Donna Jo Napoli (books, events, biography, awards, contact information), please go to

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 95 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 1, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I wavered on the prospect of buying this book for at least a month before finally purchasing it, simply because I wasn't sure if I would be getting a "kid's book" that would interest me or a more mature novel. Because Donna Jo Napoli's books are mostly listed as "young adult," and because some of her other titles, such as "Soccer Shock" and "Shark Shock" looked like "kids' books," I kept putting this recommendation aside.
I wanted to read fairy tales, but not Disney-style, written for children with children's themes. I was (and am) interested in the adult side to these tales, but every time I would search for fairy tales, this was one of the first recommendations. Eventually, I succumbed, and I am unbelievably grateful.
"Zel" is one of the finest novels I have read, period. Napoli's fierce command over language, tone, content, setting and narrative prose shines so brightly in this book that I re-read it every day for three weeks just to absorb it all.
Zel, of course, is the story of Rapunzel, but as with most of Napoli's work, the details have been rearranged. Zel's love of life is corraled by her mother, who loves her daughter so much that she can't bear the thought of losing her to anyone or anything. And besides, Mother is a witch.
The character of Mother is a careful, powerful description of a woman in torment, as well as the crushing ability of love. Her internal struggles take root in the very fundamental question of evil: why do bad things happen? In Mother's case, the "bad thing" is her inability to have children. The desire is so intense that her barreness drives her away from God (at one point, she asks how He could make her want one so badly and yet not let her have one).
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on December 31, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Zel is a retelling of the Rapunzel story. It shows the story from three alternating perspectives, a spoiled young prince, an enthusiastic peasant girl - Zel, and her aging foster-mother. Unlike the original story, we are brought to understand why the foster-mother keeps her captive in the tower - it is to keep her ever a child, and to save her from men. It is all mother's impulses taken to an extreme. Zel's ensuing madness acquired in captivity is disturbing, yet realistic for this fairytale situation. The mother-daughter relationship is something most women will be able to relate to, particularly the struggles for independence of young womanhood. In particular, I could recall my own desire for a boyfriend, my mother's protective urges that forbade me from dating.
While the book is written for a teen audience, I found some of the subject matter rather mature.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on November 24, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Firstly, I want to ask why people seem to make such a huge deal about Zel sleeping with the prince. They exchange marriage vows, and nothing is actually said. It was implied, and the only part the story tells is when Konrad wakes up, the next morning. From the way people seem to carry on, you would think it was graphically detailed. I didn't even realize they'd slept together until I skipped back and put two and two together.

While I still wouldn't recommend this book to anyone under twelve, that's only because of the descriptions of Zel's madness in the tower. It was very disturbing, and I cried when I read it. People younger than me might have found it more traumatic, but I think teenagers and preteens could handle it, because it makes the story more emotional and realistic. Overall, it was a great book, disturbing and very romantic toward the end.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 21, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Many classic fairytales have been done and re-done, worked and re-worked Cinderella for example. Off the top of my head I could list five different ways I have seen or read Cinderella. But thought it's immense popularity is still strong, Rapunzel has never gotten the same recognition by authors looking to "redo" a classic fairy tale. And perhaps for the better. "Zel" is a wonderful tale, telling not a new version, but a more indepth version of the story of Rapunzel. The story is told from three different pointso of view, Zel's, her mothers and Konrad's. Napoli gracefully ages Zel and makes the smooth transition from being a child, to a young woman. This book has a touching and innocent love scene, nothing compared to what people see in the movies today. So with that in mind I would recomend it to people ages 12 and over, or maybe 10 and older, depending on what their parents allow. I loved this book when I read it two years ago, and it didn't "take away" my innocence, in any way shape or form. Happy reading.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Fisher TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 26, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
For readers who simply glance over the words and do no reading between the lines, this book will simply read as a fleshed-out fairytale, in which the characters, settings and storylines are given more background and details. For those who take the time to read more luxeriously and deeply, they will find layer upon layer of meaning, symbolism, motivations and psychological breakdown that is simply intoxicating to discover. Underlying all of this is the concept of deep and powerful love, and its conflicting abilities to both nourish and destroy.
Set in the mountains of Switzerland in the mid-1500s, Rapunzel "Zel" lives an isolated and innocent existence with her mother in their small farm, finding joy in such simple pleasures as visits into town and her birthday celebrations. But when her mother leaves her at the smithy, Zel comes into contact with her first male influence - the Prince Konrad who is immediatly captivated by her golden hair and pretty face. But if there is one thing that her mother will never allow it is for her most beloved daughter to be taken away from her. As Konrad anguishes away in a hopeless search for his heart's desire, Zel is whisked away from all contact from the human world - to a stone tower deep in the forest, with no way of escape.
The story is told through three viewpoints, that of Rapunzel and the Prince (told in third-person narrative) and of Zel's mother, made more intimate through her speaking directly to the reader.
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