Lilah (age 8) and I have very different reviews of this book, which is clearly the start of a new princess-themed series by Meg Cabot of PRINCESS DIARIES fame. Neither of us has read the Princess Mia books, but I’ve seen (and enjoyed) the film version of THE PRINCESS DIARIES (and now Lilah can’t wait to see that as well).
Lilah (as I would have at her age) loves the premise of the average girl who finds out she’s a princess, and can’t wait to read more of Princess Olivia’s adventures as she moves to Genovia. For me, this book fell squarely in the “okay” category. It wasn’t excruciating to read (well, except for the text-message transcripts between Olivia and her best friend, Nishi). I’m not familiar with Cabot’s writing, so it’s not fair for me to suggest that she was phoning it in on this one, but it’s insubstantial and misses several opportunities to explore serious issues in a lighthearted way. A book can be both a fluffy, quick read and still meaningful, but this one was simply the former.
Let’s start with the suspension of disbelief required. Olivia lives with her aunt, uncle, and two step-cousins because her mother died when Olivia was a baby. She writes letters to a father she’s never met (although we know he’s white – Olivia’s mother was African-American), and he writes back. Her mother apparently had wanted Olivia to grow up in a normal environment, without ever knowing she’s a princess, and her father is content to never set eyes on her or to let her know she has a sister. Mmmmkay. We are told that he cares deeply for his daughter, and writes to her regularly (I wonder what they write about, since he can’t mention he’s royalty – she only knows he “travels all the time for work”), but is fine with never seeing her and with keeping her and her sister ignorant of each other’s existence. I’m really excellent at suspending disbelief, but I couldn’t get past this one. Her father finally enters the picture when Olivia’s aunt and uncle decide the family is moving to another country. Princess Mia arrives at Olivia’s school in a limo to drag her off to meet her father as paparazzi go bonkers. Really? There wasn’t a less traumatic way to do this?
The relationship between Mia and her newly discovered sister is sweet, if insubstantial. She teaches Olivia the “princess wave” (awwwww) and introduces her to their grandmother. Olivia views the whole princess revelation with wide-eyed wonder, and immediately agrees to move to Genovia. There is barely a moment of angst over leaving Nishi behind in New Jersey. After all, they can text. There’s some trouble with Olviia’s aunt and uncle trying to keep custody of her, but that is eliminated with very little suspense. Olivia holds no resentment at all toward her father for keeping her from growing up in a loving home for the first twelve years of her life, or for keeping her from growing up with a sister.
Again, Lilah is in the demographic for this book and I am not, but I was disappointed and, to be honest, bored. Olivia has an African-American mother (and presumably aunt and uncle, not sure about step-cousins), while her father and other royal relatives are white, and this could have been interesting, but Cabot just throws out that Olivia’s mother is African-American, but this apparently has zero effect on Olivia’s life. Her best friend, Nishi, is of Indian descent, but this also fails to play into the story at all. Do they go to a mostly white school? Is it diverse? We have no idea, because these two characters’ identities are asserted but not examined.
I could go on and on about how much this book irritated me, and I suppose I have. I don’t have anything against fluffy, fun books, but this one feels like the start of a series made entirely to profit from the parents of princess-crazy young girls. But Lilah thinks it’s fun, so perhaps I’m taking it too seriously.
Available May 19, 2015
Source disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.