Book Title/Author: The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes
Publisher/Year: Candlewick 2012
Genre: Contemporary YA
Other Books From Author: None — debut novel
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?