The Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes
Upcoming Release Date: May 8, 2012
Pages: 464 pages
Format: eBook from NetGalley
Summary: After pretty, popular, and rich girl Paige is involved in a drunken car accident with her friends, her mom ships her off to Paris to smooth over her daughter’s (and her family’s) reputation. When she returns, Paige feels completely out of place and her friends and boyfriend are keeping their distance. Her creative writing teacher and two new friends in particular cause her to further examine what happened that night and who she really is… after years of wanting to be a princess.
There seems to be a growing trend in young adult fiction I’ve been reading. Taking the popular girl main character and giving her a conscience. Sometimes this frustrates me because I was never the popular girl. I was the bookworm. The majorette in band. A CVS worker who liked to work in the shampoo aisle. The creative one. The existing moment that makes me relate to a character that is so unlike me, who is in fact the people I usually completely write off, is very small. Miniscule. Yet here I am connecting on an intense level with a girl like Paige. Rich, gorgeous, popular, mean to the small people. To the point where I am wondering if there are other girls I went to school with who maybe felt constricted by their status, the pressures of their moms who are always trying to relive their younger years, who really had no idea who they were.
It’s not like I was automatically on Paige’s side either. She’s in a horrific car accident because her or one one of her best friends drank too much (the real story unfolds along the way) and her mom is glad to ship her off to Paris for the summer where she works as a nanny. This gives her mom time to wipe up the mess and ensure her daughter’s (and her family’s) gold-star reputation. Paige returns to a world turned upside down. Her best friends (Lacey & Nikki) are giving her the cold shoulder, and her boyfriend is more interested in being there for Lacey. At this point, Paige’s thoughts and worries could definitely be seen as a bit selfish… what did I do… don’t they realize that I’m upset too… but you know what, I seriously would have been thinking the same things.
It takes a fantastic writing class and some new friends to push Paige onto this journey of discovery. Mr. Tremont sounds like the kind of writing teacher that I would have loved to have had in high school. I was lucky to have a few of them in college like this, but holy crap, wow. I loved how he talked about writing being this difficult thing. He was completely inspiring, and I can see why Paige was so intrigued by him and this other part of herself that seemed to come out of nowhere. It was inspiring to me. Especially because her own writing is the device she used to figure out what happened in that car accident last spring and make sense of it and her surroundings and the expectations that have become a burden instead of something she thought she wanted for so long.
The new friends – Shanti & Ethan – would, of course, normally be out of Paige’s general circle of friends a year ago. And I liked how they sort of tiptoe around each other when it comes to making this commitment to be real friends. Paige even acts like a real bitch at some points, and while I hated that about her, it was true to her character and made even more sense when she disentangles herself from her own norm and shies away from the spotlight.
The Princesses of Iowa is so rich in story, and the intensity is built up so perfectly. It’s like a house of cards that could break at any time. And I couldn’t put it down. It gets scary and frustrating but Backes succeeds in tackling some very sensitive and serious storylines very well. Her characters are well-developed and real and even disappointing and surprising. What hit home for me the most was Backes’ belief in the power of writing and expression. That in itself is such a truth in my own life and she nailed it. Many many times. And all I know is that I will be buying a copy of The Princesses of Iowa when it is released on May 8th. I already have a place in my bookshelf waiting for it.
“It’s your writing you guys. Follow it wherever it takes you. All you need to do is tell your truth.”