I started to read Meg Cabot‘s Princess Diaries series after seeing the Anne Hathaway movie when it came out in 2001. I think I read roughly 4-5 of the books in the series and then fell off the bandwagon. I LOVED the movie and I enjoyed the books, but the books were different and more complex than the movie. However, the main plot is more or less the same. Mia Thermopolis, standard nerd, finds out she’s a princess when her prim and proper grandmother comes to visit. Mia’s father can no longer have children because of his battle against testicular cancer, and Mia is his heir. Mia’s parents kept the truth from her after they split up, hoping her dad would marry and have “legitimate” children to succeed him, saving Mia from the abnormal and stressful life of a royal. You would think it’s every girl’s dream to be a princess, but Mia would vehemently disagree. She struggles with sharing the news with her best friend Lilly Moscovitz, and rising to the challenge of being a princess. Grandmère gives Mia princess lessons to help her learn how to behave like a princess and prepare her for her duties as Princess of Genovia. Simple premise, enjoyable book.
Childhood Rating: 5 out of 5 tiaras
Okay, maybe the movie influenced my memories more than I thought. All of the above is true, except Mia’s dad, not her grandmother, tells her she’s a princess. Tall, flat-chested, awkward Mia desperately wants to hide her status as a princess, especially from Lilly. Lilly, the daughter of psychologists, is always psychoanalyzing Mia and telling her what to do and what to believe, and has an unfavorable view of monarchies. Mia’s terrified Lilly will berate her for being the heir to a sovereignty and stop being her friend. She also doesn’t want to be the center of attention at school, where she already stands out like a sore thumb and faces bullying from her crush Josh’s girlfriend, Lana. Lilly has already become critical of how much time Mia’s been spending with her grandmother, getting a makeover that turns her into a fashionable “Lana clone”, unaware it’s part of Mia’s training to be a princess. Mia has enough to worry about, being the only girl in school without a date to the Cultural Diversity Dance. The last thing she wants to worry about is etiquette and fashion. Of course, Mia’s secret gets out and her prediction of Lilly’s reaction comes true, causing a rift between the friends. Mia starts to hang out with Tina Hakim Baba, another outcast who has a bodyguard because her dad is a wealthy Saudi Arabian oil tycoon. Soon, the popular kids start to pay more attention to Mia and she gets her first lesson in being a princess: know who your true friends are.
This was fun to Reread because I forgot how funny Mia is. The Princess Diaries series is similar to Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series, except Mia is a younger, slightly less snarky version of Jessica. Mia is self-deprecating and makes hilarious observations about what’s going on around her, including getting grossed out about the implications of her algebra teacher sleeping over after going on a date with her mom. Mia and Lilly are intelligent girls, even though Mia might be failing Algebra, and it’s fun to read Lilly psychoanalyzing Mia right down to the bone and Mia being too young and naïve to realize how spot-on her friend’s observations are. Lilly’s brother Michael obviously has a crush on Mia, who’s making the typical teen girl mistake of pining for the hot-but-intellectually-unstimulating popular boy. By the end of the book, she’s finally catching on, but nothing major happens between them yet. I appreciated that the book depicted Lilly and Mia discussing sex, like typical 14-year-olds who are curious in the midst of a hormonal hurricane. I always wonder which YA novels are going to accurately depict teen’s views of sex, and love it when they get it right.
Mia’s grandmother is very different from the lovely Julie Andrews in the movie. In the movie, Mia’s grandma is prim and proper but learns to loosen up with Mia’s help, and always has Mia’s best interests at heart. In the book, Mia’s grandma is obsessed with image, critical, and puts Mia’s public image over her well-being. I remembered she wasn’t as sweet as the movie version, but I forgot how foul Grandmère actually was! Some of the references are dated, being written in 2000, but it brought me right back to high school. It was a light, fun trip back to the early aughts.
Adulthood Rating: 4 out of 5 Fat Louies