Ash by Malinda Lo

Malinda Lo's Ash is a haunting fairy tale that's impossible to forget.

After the death of her father, Ash's only family is her cruel stepmother who forces her to work as a servant for her keep. Full of grief, Ash dreams that the fairies will steal her away, just as they do in all the stories her mother told her. While wandering in the woods, she attracts the attention of the dangerous fairy Sidhean, and he promises to use his magic to save her... if she will belong to him. Ash is willing to make the deal, until she meets the King's charming Huntress, Kaisa, and falls in love.

Ash is a beautiful retelling of Cinderella, written in lush, delicate prose that aches with emotion. Although it has many familiar Cinderella elements, including servitude, a ball, and a magical helper, Ash also subverts many of the story's less progressive elements to create a tale that is both gorgeous and inspiring. The prince is nice enough, but Ash is that rare being -- a  lesbian protagonist in a YA novel -- and she falls for the far more dynamic and enigmatic Kaisa. The novel never turns this into a "big deal," either because of the lesbian aspect or because of the usual YA tropes of "I would die without you"; their relationship simply is. Meanwhile, far from being a story about the value of patience and obedience and waiting for a prince to save you, Ash is a Cinderella story where the protagonist grows and develops the self-confidence to save herself.

Ash is a fantastic read for anyone who loves haunting fantasy or fairy tales, or anyone who simply wants a strong protagonist who doesn't simply kick butt and a YA romance that isn't fate-driven, love-at-first-sight "boy meets girl." I absolutely adore it.