The Princess of Iowa
M. Molly Backes
Publication date: 8th May 2012
My rating: 4.5 out of 5.
I love books that end up taking a completely different direction from what I expected. The Princess of Iowa is exactly that kind of book. It's a coming of age story of Paige the rich, popular girl shipped off to Paris for the summer by her overbearing mother after the scandal of being involved in a drink driving accident with her party going friends. When Paige returns after the summer everything and everybody seems different and the only thing getting Paige through her days is a challenging creative writing class (that she thought initially would be a breeze) and the inspiring new poet teacher Mr Tremont and the two writer friends Ethan and Shanti that she makes in the class.
But Paige has always been a Princess, destined for the homecoming court with her equally perfect boyfriend and best friends. Can Paige stay with her friends the popular drunk kids or could she dare to be a writer and fit in with the smart and worthwhile Ethan and Shanti?
Backes has provided some really fantastic love them or hate them characters. Initially Paige really, and I mean really, annoyed me. She's the type of whiny girl who breezes through life only concerned with appearances. However, when she comes back from Paris she starts to look below the surface and realises the people around her are not so perfect after all. From her truly awful, neurotic mother who sends her to school on a freezing cold day in a tiny outfit and no jacket because she must make an impression in the first few days of school to guarantee her place at the homecoming court. I mean what mum does that? It's usually all "button up it's cold outside." Paige starts to realise for her mother it's all about appearances and the strain of trying to stay young and perfect is physically noticeable on her mother if Paige looks hard enough. To her best friend Lacey who is just plain bitchy and empty headed in that the biggest night of her life is planning for a party at bonfire night. To even her own perfect boyfriend who is not only a mean drunk but is bullied constantly by his overbearing father.
Paige wants her life to be more than what her mother planned for her but she's just not quite sure if she can fit in with the smart kids either. It takes the rather lovely Ethan to convince Paige she can be more than just Princess Paige.
"Look" I said quietly. "I have a lot of things I need to figure out. But with you I feel like it's okay that I don't exactly know who I am. Because you don't make any demands of me. You don't expect me to be anyone but myself."
I sighed, frustrated that words were failing me when I needed them most.
"Am I making any sense at all?"
He grinned. "You mean, other than the part where you think that being with me is better than riding unicorns?"
"Other than that."
Ethan's eyes locked with mine.
The Princess of Iowa is more than just a coming of age story, it deals quite sensitively with the issue of discrimination and the consequences of drinking and driving, without at any point seeming preachy. A really enjoyable and thought provoking debut.