The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes

8 04 2012

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 isher 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.

This review has to start with, erm, a bit of a warning.

My name is Paige.

This seems irrelevant at first — it’s simply my name, what my parents decided to call me — until you read the book blurb. The main character’s name is…..Paige. Now, first, I have to say I like this — there are hardly ever any main characters named Paige and Paiges in books (when they show up, which is rare) are usually mean, nasty girls.

But this Paige is not!

But she starts out a mean girl.

So right away, I had my assumptions on this book, because obviously SHE HAS MY NAME, and that is COOL and so obviously I should like her, because you know, Paiges gotta stick together!

But even past that first assumption, I really, really enjoyed this book.

At a first, cursory glance, it seems to be a simple, stereotypical “mean girls” story, one that is constantly in the media, something that I’ve remarked on before.  But in reality, it is so much more, deeper and richer. Paige knows that what she did was wrong. She’s ashamed of herself. She wishes that she could turn the clock back. And as people point out her brattiness — like, who doesn’t want to go to Paris — she starts to change.


And then there’s the other person, the boy. Ethan, the cute boy who looks like a freshman. He’s really a senior, though, and he really has an attraction for Paige. They have similar characteristics, and he knows he can’t have her. Paige has a boyfriend. But he doesn’t chase her, try to find her or make her love him. And when it comes time for his confession of love, he’s afraid.

And there are the other characters — Miranda, who’s a “rebel teen” but really just wants to get away from her mother; Shanti, who is Indian but has a boyfriend while being studious; Nikki, who is more than she seems — and many more.

I really liked how the characters were different; based on cliches, formed around them, but then changed into something different, something more.

I really love all the things explored through the story. A lot of topics get covered, and it never seems like too much or overbearing.

One of these topics is homosexuality. The characters remark on it many times — they call their friends “gay” and “homo” and the assortment of other crude names given to GLBTQ people. But as the story continues, it starts to become an issue, a problem, and the characters remark on their real standings — do they want gays to be allowed to marry? How do they feel about it? I loved this because it is so in the “right now” — homosexuality and GLBTQ rights are all over the news. But I also love that the author wasn’t afraid to let her characters have stances. Some of them are against gay marriage, and they make their points for why they are against it. Some of the characters are for it, and they too explain their reasons. And then there are the ones in the gray area, neutral and confused. In their hometown, homosexuality isn’t really discussed. I loved this because the author didn’t simply say “gays and lesbians deserve rights” (though there is a positive GLBTQ standing throughout the book, and gay and lesbian people are regarded as deserving rights). It was a really interesting arc to explore.

I also loved the element of writing, the wonder of being unsure if you should write, what the heck you should actually write, if you want to be a writer or a poet or someone who works with writing. This was a great way to see Paige’s true colors, her love for writing and quiet spots.

Backes’ writing is strong too. The voice is marvelous; it seems like Paige’s voice is dripping off the page. She acts and sounds like a real teenager, and she’s a normal kid, with insecurities. The voice really just ads another element to this already impressive book.

I read this book on Netgalley, thanks to the generosity of Candelwick Press, but I will most certainly be buying a copy for my own bookshelf.

Above all, I loved this book.

5 stars.

I received this book as an advanced readers’ copy from Candlewick Press. Under the FTC guidelines I did not receive any monetary amount or other bribe in return for a copy of this book.




One response

9 04 2012
reader’s letters | Dancing Through YA

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