Elana K. Arnold

Balzer & Bray/Harperteen, 2018

Plot Summary

The rite has existed for as long as anyone can remember: When the king dies, his son the prince must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been.

When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon or what horrors she faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome young man, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny of sitting on a throne beside him. It’s all like a dream, like something from a fairy tale.

As Ama follows Emory to the kingdom of Harding, however, she discovers that not all is as it seems. There is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows, and the greatest threats may not be behind her, but around her, now, and closing in.


  • School Library Journal (June 27, 2018): “Graphic violence, sexuality, and rape are present on the page, though carefully presented to create a crucial juxtaposition to the lyrical writing. The characters’ roles, actions, and motivations are reflected through foils, revealing powerful symbolism and dramatic irony. All of this works to increase the tension, which comes to a dark but ultimately satisfying conclusion. VERDICT This incisively written allegory rips into a familiar story and sets it aflame. Highly recommended for high school libraries where literary feminist retellings are popular.” Starred review.

  • Booklist (Aug. 2018): “Arnold’s (What Girls Are Made Of, 2017) pitch-black fairy tale is not subtle in its delivery, but, as its volcanic ending attests, this is not a tale that requires subtlety. It’s not an easy read: physical, sexual, and psychological violence all come into play, and adults may want to be on hand for discussions. But for teens, especially girls, learning to transform sadness and fear into active, productive fury, it’s an essential allegory. Eat your heart out, Sleeping Beauty: this brutal, devastating, powerful novel won’t soon be forgotten.” Starred review.

  • Horn Book (Jan. 27, 2019): “Hints along the way suggest Ama’s true origin and the nature of her ‘rescue’ well before they are revealed, but the conclusion of her tale is nevertheless both surprising and satisfying. Though somewhat reminiscent in plot of Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, Arnold’s wrenching tale is more akin in theme and tone to Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (rev. 9/08) or The Brides of Rollrock Island (rev. 9/12) — lyrical, brutal, and unapologetically feminist.”

  • Kirkus (Oct. 2, 2018): “Arnold (Bat and the Waiting Game, 2018, etc.) blends an abusive romance-novel relationship and intense feminist and patriarchal imagery with the classic storyline of a prince saving a damsel from the lair of a dragon What if, instead of being the hero’s beloved, you are your abuser’s captive? The symbolism and imagery, as well as the meaning of the sexual violence that is perpetrated upon Ama, may go over the heads of less sophisticated readers.”

  • Publishers Weekly (Oct. 22, 2018): “With haunting prose and lush descriptions, Arnold (What Girls Are Made Of) weaves a terrifying tale that explores contemporary conversations about rape culture, misogyny, male entitlement, female agency, and the need for consent. The message is as timely as it is vital, but frank discussions of self-harm, physical and emotional abuse, and descriptions of sexual violence may not be appropriate for readers at the younger end of the stated range.”



Printz Honor Book, 2019

Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee, 2020


Response to Challenges

In Brevard County, FL, the local chapter of Moms 4 Liberty provided the Brevard County School Board with a list of 19 books found in school libraries, including Damsel, which they claim violate Florida’s statute against providing obscene materials to minors. (The Ledger, Apr. 26, 2022). School Board Chair Misty Belford stated that the books had undergone an “informal review process” and some schools had chosen to remove the books from their libraries (Florida Today, May 8, 2022). Brevard County School Board voted unanimously to create a new process for challenging books, allowing them to be challenged at the district level as well as at the individual school level (Florida Today, May 11, 2022). As of this writing, there is no record of Moms 4 Liberty members submitting a formal district-wide challenge for any of the 19 books. No statement on the books or their content has been made by the School Board, and no school librarians appear to have been interviewed.


"2020 Nominees." Rhode Island Teen Book Award. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://riteenbookaward.org/ritba/2020-nominees


"American Library Association Announces 2019 Youth Media Award Winners." (2019, January 28).

American Library Association. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from

https://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2019/01/american-library-association-announces-2019-yo uth-media-award-winners


Bircher, K. (2019, January 27). "Review of Damsel." The Horn Book. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://www.hbook.com/story/review-of-damsel


"Damsel." (2018, June 24). Kirkus. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/elana-k-arnold/damsel/


"Damsel." (2018, October 22). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://www.publishersweekly.com/9780062742322


Gallion, B. (2022, May 11). "Brevard School Board Establishes Library Review Process, Extends Speaking Times for Some." Florida Today. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/education/2022/05/11/brevard-school-board-passes-libr ary-policy-tiers-public-speaker-time/9718319002/

Gallion, B. (2022, May 8). "Brevard School Board to Vote on Library Books, Student Restraints and Public Speaking." Floriday Today. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/education/2022/05/08/brevard-county-school-board-vot e-book-removal-policies-speaking-times/9676400002/


Law, L. (2018, June 27). "Damsel by Elana K. Arnold." School Library Journal. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://www.slj.com/story/damsel-elana-k-arnold-slj-review


Reagan, M. (2018, August). "Damsel." Booklist. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://www.booklistonline.com/Damsel-Elana-K-Arnold/pid=9527741


Thomas, R. (2022, April 26). "Florida's Book Bans: Which Titles Are Being Pulled From School Media Centers?" The Ledger. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://www.theledger.com/story/news/state/2022/04/26/florida-school-book-bans-these-library-tit les-being-reviewed-school-boards/9542938002/


Book Resume created by Virginia Library Association and PDSAL