The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes | Book Review

The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly BackesBook Title/Author: The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes
:  Candlewick 2012
Genre: Contemporary YA
Series: No.
Other Books From Author: None — debut novel

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I bought this for book club!

After being exiled by her parents to Paris to be an au pair for the summer, part of the damage control they wanted to do after Paige is involved in a drunk driving accident with her friends, Paige comes back to Iowa to start school and everything has changed — her best friend is still having physical problems from the accident and is angry, her boyfriend seems to be spending a lot of time with her best friend and blowing Paige off and her sister pretty much hates her and lets her know what an entitled brat she thinks she is. This was supposed to be the perfect year where she and her friends made homecoming court but she sees it is a lot different now when she’s being ignored by her friends and suspects her boyfriend is cheating. She is forced to deal with truth and what is inside her head when she takes a creative writing class and the teacher inspires her to write the truth and find out who she is when the popular and pretty facade is stripped away.

Here’s the thing. I started this book at 11:30 at night and didn’t put it down until I finished it at 4am. I honestly couldn’t put it down. I just had to know all the whys and hows of the car accident, hoped that Paige would change and just a general interest in the plot itself. The writing itself was fantastic and I found the pacing to work well for me personally but I found myself really frustrated for most of the book — mostly the ending.

Let’s start with the good — honestly the plot is engaging enough and the characters, while excruciatingly frustrating, ring authentic and real for the first part of the book. Paige is a downright SNOT but you keep hoping that you’ll find some sort of redeemable quality in her that will make her change a little bit and honestly though she was whiny and selfish and totally self centric..there was a part of me that could relate to that because I feel like that’s how I was as a teenager. EVERYTHING that happens was like “but why don’t people see why I’m the victim here?” or like really super paranoid — but let’s be honest…I’ve been there. People’s actions might make me think they are mad at me or are about me in some way — when really they aren’t at all. I get it.

There is that Real High School Vibe I got for most of the book and I appreciated that, while frustrating, the characters were flawed and seemed to have dimension. There are some really awesome characters, too, that happen to NOT be in her little circle of friends (Ethan, Shanti, a certain teacher and her sister). I thought the unraveling of the night of the car accident was done really well — it wasn’t like HEY THERE IS A MYSTERY HERE but just so subtly inserted. I also really enjoyed how writing was a huge part of this book and part of Paige’s journey because writing has always just been such a healing and beautiful thing for me.

Now for what FRUSTRATED ME. True, I really despised Paige and thought she was annoying, whiny and selfish and your typical mean girl. But I can overlook that sometimes. Unfortunately, for me, this was a little too predictable. I pretty much knew how the accident went down. I knew she was going to be the “mean girl who is redeemed and changes her whole life” kind of girl. Which who doesn’t love a good Mean Girls story but the thing is…I didn’t buy it. Not at all how it went down. I applauded the authenticity in Paige’s character that she was a biotch for most of the book but then suddenly she becomes preachy and perfect and I just didn’t buy that ALL OF THE THINGS that happened or the conversations she had (also read: a boy) changed her that completely. I just didn’t and I think, with this book, either you are going to buy it or not. I fall on the “did not” side and therefore the end just didn’t ring as true to me as the rest of the book.

I don’t want to give much away so I’m not going to elaborate but I really have to feel an authentic change in my heart. I think she was headed towards it but the end was rushed and crammed so many things in, and made other characters even more repulsive, to make her look like the ultimate Redeemed Character that it just didn’t do it for me. ALSO so annoying that she acts like she does and gets what she wants in the end. I didn’t buy that quick of forgiveness in the end.


The Princesses of Iowa is that novel that I probably would have loved more in high school (because you know..I’m that creepy 27 year old lady reading it now being all crabby about it) but I do applaud the fact that rather than only focusing on Mean Girls and social hierarchies it dealt with a lot of other  issues — drunk driving, abuse, homophobia.  Unfortunately, while the writing was good and the plot held my attention enough, I just became increasingly frustrated with the ending and didn’t buy that Paige truly changed that much and was annoyed with how preachy and holier-than-thou she became so quickly — all from some things that happen and conversations with a boy. Paige is a character who you’ll love to hate but I did see something real in her — just wished her growth would have been a little bit more realistic for me at the end. I just don’t think she truly deals with things in the end and still gets what she wants.


For Fans  Of: Mean Girls stories, books set in the high school landscape dealing with social status and other HS issues, books that are for the most part not DARK or gritty but still deal with issues like drunk driving, homophobia, abuse, etc, contemporary YA fans who don’t have to LOVE the protag to like a book (because seriously Paige is hard to handle sometimes),


Let’s Talk: Have you read this one?? Heard of it? I don’t really have a problem with this but I know others do (with this book specifically)..can you loathe the main character and still LIKE a book? Like there are books that I straight up love but have horrid main characters. Did you find Paige’s transformation to seem real or was it just me?

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About Jamie

Jamie is a 32 year old married lady (with a new baby!!) who is in denial that she's actually that old to be a married lady and a mom. When she's not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating ice cream, belting out Hamilton (loud and offkey) and having adventures with her husband, daughter and rescue dog.


  1. Glad you praised the writing here because I think Molly rocks. Like you, I stayed up pretty late finishing this as well, and found a ton of quoteworthy lines to underline (or write down since I read this on my Nook). I did feel like Paige made a decent turnaround in the time we share with her, and I really liked the insertion of the writing theme, and this pressure to deal with our parent’s expectations, as well as what happens when friends change.

    Sure, she was annoying as well and I was surprised I was sympathizing her at some points. I do have to disagree and I felt like the me of today definitely felt there was a lot to take from it and it inspired me. Maybe it was more in the writing sense because of Paige and Molly but it did feel extremely relevant to my life.

  2. Yeah, the writing is really nice! So easy to just glide right through it but then take pause at really amazing passages and go GOD I LOVE GOOD WRITING.

    I thought she was honestly STARTING to make a good turnaround for it and I was so on board with it– she was still relapsing into old thinking even though her eyes were opening to her old ways…which is SO real and easy to relate to for me. Change doesn’t happen that quickly and it’s going to be messy even when you realize some things. I think THAT is why the ending bothered me so much…because she all of a sudden became so judgey and preachy of others and it just went TOO fast for me in her progression during that part..which is a shame because I was totally into it.

    I also was surprised that I sympathized with her too at times. It’s easy to see how, especially as a teen errrr or now for me sometimes, she’d be thinking t he things she did. Felt real to me. I think, what I meant in that line, is that I found myself so frustrated with her choices and what she cared about and it made me grumpy. I felt like she wasn’t actually dealing with the drunk driving and stuff but only on a superficial level. But that makes total sense that it would be inspiring to you — I did feel very inspired by the teacher and his urging for them to find the truth in their writing — but mostly felt crabby by the end so didn’t focus on that part so much.

    Thanks for your opinion, Estelle! I appreciate it! 🙂

  3. bookrockbetty says:

    I have to be honest and say I’m kind of enjoying this one! Not like top shelf or anything like that….. but not what I expected! I’m not quite done yet, but so far… I like the writing! Molly is funny. There are so many little comments that just cracked me up because they were so perfect for the characters. We will talk more on this tomorrow night at book club (YES!) but as shallow and crappy as these characters seemed, it was so real! I knew these people in high school. I couldn’t believe how well their voices were portrayed. And like you said— what teenager isn’t “ALL ABOUT ME”? — yeah Paige was a bitch, but it made total sense. Until tomorrow…. 🙂

  4. I hated Paige, and that was really unfortunate, because she was one of the least-horrible characters in the book. I didn’t buy her redemption either, and I didn’t believe in or see any motivation for Ethan and his crew. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters, and that made this a fail.

    That said, my book club basically told me I was super sheltered and lucky, because I loved high school and never met people like this (or I was oblivious, take your pick). They all identified with it and thought the characters were true-to-life. So there’s that.

    • Right? I felt like that is how she made you like her a little bit more because everyone else was so awful too! It does make me feel better that I’m not the only one who didn’t believe her redemption.

      I definitely KNEW people in high school this but not nearly as bad! I really did think the characters were pretty true and authentic but maybe exaggerated a bit?

      Thanks for weighing in!

  5. I’m reading this right now and quite enjoying it! I love how authentic it seems. As someone who grew up in a midwest town, I’m totally reminded of my high school experience. Paige doesn’t bother me too much, either. But I was also surrounded by girls like her and I was a bit like her myself (I hate to admit), so I guess I’m lucky in that regard. Also, I LOVELOVELOVE Molly’s writing. Paige’s voice is like the thing I hear in my head and how I talk. I can’t wait to finish it so I can see how I feel about it then.

  6. Okay, so there’s this other book called The Queen of Kentucky and I always thought this book and that book were companion pieces or something. Right, right, I should pay more attention, I know. I haven’t read either the princess book or the queen book, just so you know. 😉

    The way you describe this book reminds me a bit of Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers, what with the mostly unlikable mean girl who redeems herself after dire circumstances. I feel like it’s a pretty common trend, though. (Speechless by Hannah Harrington, another recent release, focuses on that theme, too, I think. Haven’t read it, either.) Anyway. What I was trying to say is that, since the general mean girl redeems herself concept has been done so many times, the author is going to have to work extra hard to make her book stand out. So in some respects it’s disappointing to hear that this book was a little predictable for you, Jamie, and that the ending was so off-putting. Lately I’ve become increasingly annoyed by preachy books, and I know exactly what you mean when you say that aspect frustrated you.

    On the other hand, it does sound like this goes a bit deeper than your average “popular girl turns her life around” plot line, dealing with other issues that are relevant to teens. Hmm.

  7. I read this one and liked it and Paige a bit better than you, but I think you’ve articulated the problems with this book quite nicely. The transformation at the end feels too big to be believable. It just reads as contrived.

    Hopefully someone in your book club feels differently, because all of this would make great book club fodder!

  8. I totally agree! I actually ended up liking it, but I figured out most of that was due to the fact that ALL the writing lessons (however cheesy they were) inspired me to write as well.
    I’m with you about Paige – I think there were a lot of good ideas with her story, but yes, it was definitely WAY too Mean Girls. I found Paige to be annoying and too much of a victim, never realizing that should could to wrong.
    Glad you liked parts of it! I was hoping people could see the good too (even though I had some complaints as well)!

  9. Read this one for book club (like you did!) and I really loved it, but totally agree with your assessment of Paige. I don’t think she actually redeemed herself though. I think she just realized she majorly f-ed up and was trying to make herself feel better. I don’t know… the ending was just kind of… false? Which, I guess, is pretty true to high school. I think what I loved best about this was all the feelings it brought up for me and questions it made me think of. The ending could have been better, yes, but overall really enjoyed it!

  10. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that I just couldn’t put down (sadly) but I don’t think this book would really be my thing either. Great review though!

  11. Reviewed this one in May and had to go peek at my review — book amnesia! I do remember that I thought there were a lot of issues for one book.
    My review

  12. HIGH FIVE to creepy 27 year olds! <3 I probably won't be picking this one up after your review. I guess I'd need to be in a more…..kid…..mood.

  13. I really like the fact that creative writing is a part of this book. I too had a teacher who changed my entire life by challenging me to write and to do it until I got good – and I think that’s the part that stood out to me about the summary of this book. I’m a little worried about how I’ll feel about Paige if I read it, but I’m still up for giving it a try, as it sounds like an interesting YA contemporary novel.

  14. Hmmmm. On the one hand, I like a good mean girl book. On the other, I like authenticity, and like the changes to feel real and do pick up on that sort of thing. On the third hand, if they existed, I like the sound of books that keep people up late (granted, I have not seen 11:30 p.m. in months – heck yeah 6 am wake up call EVERY DAY). I think I may put The Princesses of Iowa on the if it’s ever at the doctor’s office and I am trapped with nothing to read list.

  15. Danielle says:

    I absolutely LOVED this one! I thought the writing was so beautiful and can’t wait to see what else comes from the author. Although Paige was a bit hard to hane at times, I also really understood her and totally felt like she did in high school.

    I loved how writing was a part of the story as well.


  1. […] Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes My Verdict: It was okay to good for me. (my review of Princesses of Iowa) Overall Book Club Verdict: Super mixed! Is it a good book club book? As much as this wasn’t […]