Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Uneasy Is the Head that Wears the Crown: From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot

Olivia is just your average sixth-grader, average size, brown hair, hazel eyes, determined to avoid demerits from Principal Bushy.

But one day in May things change. A Lot.

No one ever told me, "In middle school Annabelle Jenkins is going to threaten to beat you up by the flagpole for absolutely no reason."

There was no reason that I could think of for Annabelle Jenkins to:

1. Knock my organizer from my arms.
2. Shove me.
3. Ask me if I think I'm so great.
4. Call me a princess.

After school Annabelle waylays Olivia and best friend Nishi scuttling for the bus, and Olivia hears something unbelievable. Annabelle is broadcasting her news to the gathering crowd.

"I heard my dad talking to her uncle, and the truth is, her dad is actually a prince. The prince of Genovia, to be exact," sneers Annabelle.

And while Olivia is reeling from that remark, Annabelle begins to act on her promise to "kick her butt." She grabs Olivia braids and starts yanking.

At that moment I heard a woman's voice ring out. And I saw the most amazing sight.

Her Royal Highness, Princes Mia Thermopoulos of Genovia.

And princess-ex-machina, Princess Mia and her bodyguards whisk Olivia and Nishi away in her limousine, flags of Genovia flying on the front fenders, and soon the now Princess Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette finds herself in New York City, meeting the dowager princess, her Grandmere Grimaldi, with her own white poodle puppy and a new wardrobe, hearing the whole story of how her deceased mother had insisted that Olivia grow up in a ordinary American family. Suddenly Olivia understand why her aunt and uncle have always treated her somewhat like an unwanted orphan relative and why she had never met her globe-trotting father. A quick trip to the tiny kingdom of Genovia and a happy reunion with her royal father and his family seem like a Disney dream.

But Olivia is not quite done with Annabelle. It seems that her aunt and uncle file a lawsuit, with Annabelle's father as their lawyer, to have her returned to them, not, it appears, because they really want her, but because they need the generous stipend that her father has provided for her care. Even a real princess, it seems, is not immune to a few unhappy endings, and for a while Annabelle has to return to cope with her in-law guardians, Cranbrook Middle School and its demerits, and the tender mercies of the jealous Annabelle Jenkins.

But with a brave and strong princess like Mia Thermopolis on her side, Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette is sure to find her way to a pro tem happy ending, in Meg Cabot's spin-off of her best-selling books-to-movies The Princess Diaries series, her brand-new From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess (Feiwell and Friends, 2015).

Cabot deftly draws on her skills at spinning a page-turning princess tale filled with equal measures of tasty glimpses of royal privilege and plenty of suspense. Using the familiar first-person diary format, Cabot gives Olivia an engaging persona, and her well-executed blackline illustrations add to the tale-telling, leaving the reader longing for the next chapter in Olivia's story. While not exactly the dreadful Dursleys, Olivia's distant aunt and uncle are the perfect foils for the new princess' adoring royal family, and Annabelle, the mega-popular, mean girl wannabe, is an appropriately disagreeable villain.

Fluffy fantasy fun, just right for summertime reading when a girl is feeling a little bit like the unloved stepchild, Cabot's tale has got a light touch and the improbable events button pushed all the way in this one, as Olivia Grace's nemesis Annabelle gets put in her place and the stage is set for a sequel with Olivia and her BFF Nishi as junior bridesmaids in the royal wedding of her sister, Princess Mia Grimaldi, in the picturesque, pint-sized principality of Genovia.

Even middle-schoolers who once imagined themselves princesses can sometimes to be snatched away to a fairy-tale life, right? And a girl can dream, can't she? (or at least read about a dream come true!)

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