This story is just what Catholic and conservative audiences are hungry for. The title is more than a clever play on the prince’s immortal line, “Rapunzel, let down your hair.” Let down your hair can connote letting go of moral restraints. Let down is also what a girl feels after a guy uses her without making her a part of his life and his future.
Rapunzel, known as Raphaela in this story, lives in a summer home that has a tower, as homes of the wealthy sometimes do even in modern America. This beautiful fifteen-year-old girl is home schooled and isolated by her radical feminist mother, who would protect her adopted daughter from the evil male of the species. Her prince is the youngest of three sons whose father is a famous Conservative politician. The details of how Herman “Hermes” McCaffrey happens across the tower and gets in are carefully constructed. Each scene is dramatic, suspenseful, romantic, and yet believable. Sibling rivalry drives a lot of foolish decisions, and Hermes literally goes out on a limb to upstage his brothers. Once he does, he finds himself wanting to keep his victory all to himself, while his “conquest,” a girl kept in solitary confinement by her domineering mother, just wants to see what it’s like on the outside. The traditional family unit, mom, dad, siblings, is alien to her. The selfishness so typical of egocentric teenagers makes Hermes unwittingly fulfill the low expectations of Raphaela’s mother.
The more preposterous some parts of this novel sound, the more likely they are to be taken straight from real life. While the mother and her feminist friends may sound extreme to average readers, Doman has carefully researched the platform of various feminist groups, and there really are women who’d create a city of female only, no-males-allowed, residents.
The unthinkable outcomes in this story are all too common in real life, and for many naive teenagers, the most unexpected. The prince seduces the innocent maiden, and the consequences are far worse than either teenager could have imagined. In some of the oldest versions of the fairy tale, Rapunzel’s prince leaves her with illegitimate babies before they’re ultimately reunited. A more chaste version emerged in the fairy tales so familiar to us today, but medieval story tellers seemed to have fewer qualms about showing us worst-case scenarios and consequences. In those days, statutory rape wasn’t an issue, but in today’s world, at 18, a guy can be tried for statutory rape even if his 15-year-old lover freely gave herself to him.
Doman’s research is once again thorough. She consulted experts in several fields. The trial, the medical condition of the prince who goes blind, his year in jail, and the villains are all too real. The story of Raphaela’s adoption reminds me of the good intentions of the 1960s Scoop, in which American Indian babies were taken from their biological mothers to be raised by white families.
“Rapunzel Let Down” is a a novel so packed with issues, classroom discussions could go on for weeks. We can only wish such stories were nothing but fairy tales. We can also hope that Doman’s readers will think with their brains, not their hearts and hormones, when they believe they’ve found true love. This is a cautionary tale, but it’s so captivating and enthralling, many YA readers are sure to embrace the message as well as the story.
The pace drags in places, the prose is sometimes methodical rather than elegant or poetic, and the politics are sometimes spelled out in a way that’s unnecessarily obvious. All the same, this is an important story, honest and real, and I hope it gains the wider audience it deserves.