Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Boie, Kirsten. The Princess Plot. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2009 (3 1/2 out of 4 stars).

Stephenie Meyer reminded all of us about the value of archetypes in YA literature. Her portrayal of a vulnerable teenager rescued and empowered by a dark, mysterious stranger has rekindled a voracious and seemingly limitless (until the next fad comes along) fire of vampire and monster books so that even Darren Shan’s series (Cirque du Freak, Demonata) have gained renewed popularity after petering out in my libraries. German author Kirsten Boie, in her first English novel, The Princess Plot, combines three other common but related archetypes, the princess yarn, the damsel in distress fairy tale, and the surprise identity ironic tale, creating a very readable novel. Using familiar themes and structures, Ms. Boie weaves a fast-paced, easy-to-follow-but-not-insulting novel.

Jenna Greenwood is 14 and she feels like she is missing out on life because of her overbearing single parent mother, an etiquette teacher. Mom is mysterious about the family’s past, and when Jenna asks about her family tree, Mom gives her nothing and Jenna must make up her tree for a class assignment: “Jenna looked at the almost-empty sheet . . . Maybe it would be fun to invent a few names” (19). When Jenna and her BFF Bea go to a movie audition at a local bowling alley, it is the plain Jane Jenna, not her more attractive friends, who is courted, almost desperately, by the movie people. It is hard for her not to feel special: “She suddenly felt quite light-headed. She had been chosen—of all the girls, she was the one they wanted, and that was the only thing that mattered. When she accepts the offer for a screen test, she is told that she must travel far away to take it, and she knows her mother will object. When Mom shockingly agrees by text message (she had never even sent a text message before!), Jenna is overjoyed and agrees, despite a feeling in the back of her mind that everything is not exactly as it appears.

Meanwhile, in the northern country of Scandia, Princess Malena has run away and disguised herself as a boy, interfering with the plans of the shady regent, Malena’s Uncle Norlin, and his advisor Bolström. Now, to complete their repressive and unfair plot, Bolström, masquerading as the “director” of the “film,” reveals the actual role the unwitting Jenna will play: “His megawatt smile made Jenna feel uncomfortable all over again. ‘You have the chance, Jenna, the unique chance, to stand in for the princess tomorrow at a party. You will act as if you were the Princess of Scandia’” (87). There is a reason that Jenna looks almost identical to the princess, and the nefarious plot, to attack North Scandia, hinges upon Jenna’s performance. However, Malena has friends as well, and she is doing everything she can to prevent the culmination of the plan. Risking great personal danger, they must ultimately seek each other’s help to do the right thing and save Scandia and the lives of all of the people embroiled in this conflict.

I confess that when I first started reading this novel, I thought it was just another mistaken identity story, but before I knew it, I got sucked into the plot like a sponge in water. The story moves very fast, with the short sections and quick cuts that many young people like. The vocabulary level is very reasonable, but I did not feel demeaned, making this an excellent high-low selection. Although the plot was fairly predictable, its audience will not bring a metacognitive understanding and familiarity with these types of stories to the table, so readers will probably enjoy the satisfying, happy ending, even if they know it’s coming. The Princess Plot by Kirsten Boie is an exciting novel that has the potential to rivet readers in their seats, asking if they can read just one more section before bed. The heroes are brave and loyal, the villains are believable and nasty but not over-the-top, and Jenna discovers and learns to utilize her previously-hidden inner strength and positive self-image throughout the course of the tale, an aspiration we hold for all of our students.

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