Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Ace Books, 1993
Author’s note: There is a story by Charles Perrault called Donkeyskin which, because of its subject matter, is often not included in collections of Perrault’s fairy tales. Or, if it does appear, it does so in a bowdlerized state. The original Donkeyskin is where Deerskin began.
You may have heard of this fairy tale as Allerleirauh, Thousandfurs, or The Princess in Disguise. Many fairy tale scholars (dream job, right?) categorize it as a Cinderella variant because the two stories’ endings are so similar, with their beautiful scullery maids, balls, and charming princes. But Allerleirauh begins as the story of a girl whose father wants to marry her.
I’ve reread this book once a year since I first found it in 2010. I would have a hard time reading it more often than that, but I couldn’t imagine reading it less. The book deals with subject matter (sexual abuse, incest, and especially trauma recovery) that is deeply personal and frightening for me. But Robin McKinley deals with those subjects in the warm, empathetic, richly imagined storytelling style that she always offers in her books, and because of that, Deerskin helps me to confront, process, and heal from my own history. Every year.
I want to keep my book recommendations here short, spoiler-free, and to-the-point. Deerskin is a transcendent, cathartic, immersive, heartbreaking experience. Robin McKinley is one of my biggest writing role models, and while Beauty or Spindle’s End (retellings of Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty, respectively) or Sunshine might be less disturbing starting points for her work, none of her books hold more importance for me than Deerskin.
And every time I get to this passage, I read it out loud:
I was no child, for you and my mother gave me no childhood; and my maidenhood you tore from me, that I might never become a woman; and a woman I have not become, for I have been too afraid. But I return to you now all that you did give me: all the rage and the terror, the pain and the hatred that should have been love. The nightmares, and the waking dreams that are worse than nightmares because they are memories. These I return to you, for I want them no more, and I will bear them not one whit of my time on this earth more.