The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes
Published: May 8th, 2012
Publisher: Candlewick Press
464 pages (ebook)
Genre: Contemporary young adult
Acquired this book: ARC from NetGalley
Warning: May contain spoilers
Synopsis: Paige Sheridan has the perfect life. She's pretty, rich, and popular, and her spot on the homecoming court is practically guaranteed. But when a night of partying ends in an it-could-have-been-so-much worse crash, everything changes. Her best friends start ignoring her, her boyfriend grows cold and distant, and her once-adoring younger sister now views her with contempt. The only bright spot is her creative writing class, led by a charismatic new teacher who encourages students to be true to themselves. But who is Paige, if not the homecoming princess everyone expects her to be? In this arresting and witty debut, a girl who was once high-school royalty must face a truth that money and status can't fix, and choose between living the privileged life of a princess, or owning up to her mistakes and giving up everything she once held dear.
The Princesses of Iowa wasn’t what I expected at all. It made me feel so much, I don’t even really know where to begin. I can tell you that at the time of writing this review, it’s been several weeks since I finished reading the book, and it’s still on my mind.
Paige is a perfect princess. Or at least, that’s the image she’s projected to people her entire life. She and her two best friends have worked toward being princesses for most of their lives - being pretty, being popular, and having people see them as worthy of attention and admiration. That’s all that really matters in life. But when Paige realizes how shallow and superficial she’s been, and that her friends are just as bad - if not worse - life changes completely for her.
Her mother’s obsessive need for perfection made Paige paranoid and self-conscious. I lost count of the number of times my jaw dropped at the critical things her mother said, or the back-handed compliments. As ridiculous as it may sound, there were moments when I wanted to cry, because I couldn’t imagine a mother actually saying those things, being so selfish, or putting that much pressure on her daughter.
I connected with Paige on a very deep level. Even though her life was completely different from mine, I could put myself in her shoes so easily. Nobody really saw her for her. Nobody knew the real Paige. Paige didn’t even really know the real Paige, but as she learned more about herself, as her character grew and changed, I was so proud of her for her self-discovery. Besides her own issues, and the tough life lessons she had to learn, she was surrounded by hypocrisy, racism, bigotry, and homophobia. She’d never realized that before, but she was able to learn the importance of taking responsibility for your actions and not only owning up to your mistakes, but learning from them as well.
The secondary characters were absolutely brilliant, especially Ethan and Shanti. I wish I had friends like them, and I also found myself falling for Ethan. They had surprising depth for secondary characters, and I couldn’t wait for more scenes with them. I also liked the progression made by Paige’s sister, Miranda/Mirror, and I loved Mr. Tremont, not only because he was a great character in his own right, but also because he was one of the main reasons Paige started to dig deeper and realize her true self.
An unexpected bonus of this book was that there were parts that were hilariously funny. The subject matter was so heavy that it was nice to have those moments where I would laugh until I cried (there was one scene in particular that involved Paige, Ethan, and Shanti). And yet, I would laugh and laugh, and then a minute later, Paige would think or say or do something so heartbreaking or poignant that I’d be ready to cry. And I will admit, I did cry several times. This book really did evoke a lot of emotion in me.
I only have a few small complaints about this book. The first is that it was incredibly long. There were these beautiful, elaborate descriptions that I personally enjoyed and could appreciate as a writer, but I think a lot of other people might see it as unnecessary or ‘filler’. I read a review where the reviewer said the book was like ‘a love letter to writing’, and that really stuck with me as being true, but again, as a writer, I enjoyed the descriptions. I also thought that for such a long book, the ending was rather abrupt. Everything was technically wrapped up, it just felt sort of rushed after so much story.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Beautiful, poignant, brilliantly funny, and achingly real, The Princesses of Iowa is a debut that should not be missed.
In accordance with FTC guidelines, I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No money or compensation of any sort exchanged hands.
*Thank you to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for this ARC*
Have you read the Princesses of Iowa? What did you think? Do you plan to read it? What do you think of young adult novels that tackle serious topics like drunk driving, homophobia, and other things that affect today's teens?