Cinder is a cyborg. After her parents died in a car crash that she cannot remember, over 30% of her body was rebuilt with machine parts, and she was forced to move to New Beijing and work as a mechanic for an adopted mother who hates her. All she wants is to earn enough money to flee the city and start a new life for herself, but that is difficult when her stepmother takes all her earnings and she is reviled by everyone who knows of her machine parts. When her beloved younger sister contracts the deadly plague that is sweeping the city, her stepmother sells her to the government to become part of the research for the cure. The experiments are certainly deadly, but if Cinder agrees to take part, she might be able to save her sister's life... and earn enough money for the escape she's always dreamed of.
Oh, and there's also a hot prince. Of course.
Cinder is a fabulously addictive and original Cinderella retelling. Cinderella is a cyborg, she not only spends a lot of time with the prince but also has several positive and negative relationships with other female characters, and politics and secrets lurk behind every door. The big plot twist at the end is somewhat obvious (you'll probably have it worked out by page 50), but the journey there is so enjoyable that that hardly matters.
Cinder herself is a fairly original protagonist, and she's certainly not the YA type to abandon all personality and outside concerns once the love interest appears. She's a highly talented mechanic, a loving sister, determined and resourceful in all she does, and is defiant and brave (often to a fault). She's also fairly self-conscious about her status as a cyborg, terrified that people will find out and she will lose any friendships she has. She has a lot to fight for in the novel -- her own life, the life of her sister, her robotic best friend, the affections of the prince, the end of the plague, the safety of her city and country, to name a few -- and she is a fantastic person to see these struggles with.
As the novel is set in China, the vast majority of the cast are Chinese -- score one for diversity in YA. Strangely, however, the protagonist herself is described as European. Although this choice makes sense by the end of the story, it does seem like a missed opportunity for a non-white YA protagonist.
Still, the writing is stellar, the characters compelling, and there's a lot to catch your interest and keep you engaged until the end. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, light science fiction, or just fun YA novels, I definitely recommend giving Cinder a try.