The Princess Diaries | Princess in the Spotlight | Princess in Love | Princess in Waiting | Princess in Pink | Princess in Training | Party Princess | Princess on the Brink | Princess Mia | Forever Princess
author: Meg Cabot | genre: Contemporary | publisher: HarperTeen | rating: 4 stars
What? A princess??
Me??? Yeah, right.
Mia Thermopolis is pretty sure there’s nothing worse than being a five-foot-nine, flat-chested freshman, who also happens to be flunking Algebra.
Is she ever in for a surprise.
First Mom announces that she’s dating Mia’s Algebra teacher. Then Dad has to go and reveal that he is the crown prince of Genovia. And guess who still doesn’t have a date for the Cultural Diversity Dance?
Since I binge-read Meg Cabot’s most famous series in the last couple of weeks, I decided to do a review of the whole series in one go. It’ll be a little different (well, longer – it’s actually not that different other than length) than my normal reviews and, since it’s almost impossible to talk about a ten book series without any spoilers:
there will probably be spoilers in this review, especially of the earlier books!
I know I read the very first book of this series a very long time ago (okay, probably at the beginning of high school or late middle school, but it felt like ages ago), but I didn’t remember a whole lot of it, so I was coming into this pretty blind, excluding the movies based off of it (which are admittedly quite different from the books). At the beginning of the book, Amelia is a freshman in high school, obsessed with the fact that she doesn’t have breasts or a boyfriend, and is just trying to achieve self-actualization, a quest that she will continue for nine more books. She’s best friends with Lilly, friends with her brother, Michael, simply through Lilly, and she’s freaked out by the fact that her mother is now dating her Algebra teacher, which is a class she also happens to be failing. Finding out that she’s the princess of Genovia and that, because her father (who’s still alive, unlike the movie) can no longer have children, she’s the sole heir to the throne, definitely isn’t the best thing to ever happen to her.
Mia’s diary is full of pop culture references that are kind of hilarious considering how out-of-date some of them are, and Mia tends to be very dramatic and a bit whiny, but her diaries are definitely readable. I had a lot of fun reading the books from the very beginning, which is pretty good considering that Mia’s voice is normally the type that would get on my nerves too much.
The overarching themes of this series is Mia’s journey to accept herself and to become a good person as well as a princess. Each book is probably self-contained (since I read them all in one go, I don’t know if I would have forgotten a few things and been lost if I didn’t read them so close together), but those themes definitely show up in each and every book. Sometimes it’s easy to forget, with how dramatic Mia is throughout the whole series, but she really does grow in her four years of high school drama and princess lessons, and it’s great to see.
Mia has her whiny moments, her brilliant glimmers, her dramatic days, and her just plain “I’m a regular teenager with all the baggage that entails” moments. These are definitely her books, the story of her problems and her journey and such, but there are plenty of other characters to read about as well.
There are the characters that show up in the movie, if you’ve seen that: Lilly, Michael (although I’ll touch on him more in the romance section), Lana, Mr. Gianni (the Algebra teacher who has a different name in the movie), and Mia’s mother and grandmother. Some of them are pretty flat characters who have their small growing moments but don’t have enough of a spotlight on them to be really dynamic characters. Mia’s mom and Mr. G. are there for Mia’s growing and embarrassing moments, for example. Lilly, however, really grew and changed throughout the books. I wasn’t a big fan of Lilly as a person, but she was definitely an interesting character toward the end of the series when her friendship with Mia went through a lot of problems and issues. Lana, the typical mean girl who seems to hate Mia for no reason at the beginning of the series, also goes through a small journey by the end of the book – or, to be more specific, people like Mia’s perception of her change as they get to know her better, which I loved seeing. One character who really changed from the movie without changing too much in the books themselves is Mia’s grandmother, or Grandmère, as Mia must call her. You know the awesome grandmother portrayed by Julie Andrews in the movie? Yeah, Grandmère isn’t nearly that nice and tends to be the source of all of Mia’s problems. And she draws her eyebrows on and has eyeliner tattooed around her eyes – so, if you wanted more Julie-Andrews-as-a-loving-grandmother, you definitely won’t find it here. Luckily, Grandmère is very entertaining to read about.
There are also plenty of interesting characters who I really wish had shown up in the movies. One of these characters is Tina, another freshman at Mia’s school who she befriends during one of her fights with Lilly. Tina is a huge romantic who loves reading romance novels and teaches people like Mia that they shouldn’t scoff at them, which is really awesome. There are plenty of other great secondary characters, like a nerdy Russian student named Boris who tucks his shirts into his pants (which drives Mia crazy) yet manages to snag first Lilly and then Tina as a girlfriend; other friends like Shameeka and Ling Su and Perin who bring diversity and friendship-y moments; Mia’s little brother, Rocky, who was technically in the second movie but only as an infant who has no personality because he is an infant; and Mia’s bodyguard, Lars, who is always in the background being entertaining. Another one of the best not-in-the-movie characters is Mia’s dad, though. It was great seeing Mia’s relationship with him, a relationship that has its ups and downs but manages to seem really genuine and great and lovely.
With a ten book series, there are going to be a lot of characters to keep track of and juggle and I definitely missed some, but a large cast also means that there are plenty of characters to love and find interesting, which was great.
Unlike the movie, this series was set in New York City, and it could often feel like a character of its own. Mia loves NYC and that love and respect and obsession with her city makes me want to visit it so much, especially since I’ve never been there. Although I must say I miss the awesome refurbished fire station that Mia lived in with her mother in San Francisco in the movie.
The Adult Situation
There’s an unusual adult situation in this book. Mia’s mother and father definitely give her space when she needs it and she’s not trapped by them by any means, but because she’s a princess, she has a bodyguard who’s always following her around. Even when Mia isn’t with her Grandmère for princess lessons or hanging out in the loft with her mom and stepfather or bonding with her father at the Plaza or the Genovian palace, she always has adult supervision in the form of Lars. So, there are definitely adults around to keep track of Mia – this is not a parentless and adult-less series by any means.
The romance is a big part of the series for sure. Michael is the guy who seems to be there from the beginning, just as he was in the movies. Her crush on him didn’t really seem to show up until the second book, but once it does, it’s a huge part of Mia’s life. She has a lot of trouble starting up a relationship with him (the facts that he’s a senior and she’s a freshman, he’s the brother of her best friend, and Mia ends up with a boyfriend she doesn’t want by the end of the second book, for example) and then their relationship has its ups and downs like most relationships, which was great to see when most YA books are more concerned with the drama of starting a relationship than maintaining one. If you’re a big Michael-Mia shipper then you probably won’t be a big fan of some of the later books when things really implode and Mia gets super dramatic about things that aren’t as big of a problem as they seem to her. During the dark Michael-less years, Mia has an interesting relationship with the “perfect” boy, J.P., another character who doesn’t show up in the movies. There’s plenty of romance and drama to sustain the whole series, that’s for sure. Things are messy and dramatic and complicated and ultimately seem quite true to life – at least, the life of someone like a Genovian princess.
By the last book, I was really, really happy with the growth of Mia. She starts off the series in a bit of a dark place where she didn’t like herself much at all. By the end, she has gained a lot more confidence and had figured out what she wanted to do (namely, write a romance novel of her own, even if other people looked down on it). She helped bring democracy to her country and find plenty of ancestresses to emulate. She learned that liking fashion and her appearance wasn’t being shallow but was simply about being proud of herself and showing the world that confidence. She grew in all of her relationships and reconnected with Michael (I’m not going to say where they get their happy ending, but the fact that there’s a new, eleventh book coming out next year about a Royal Wedding might tip you off), and she ended the series off with a high note.
This series had its ups and downs. There were times when Mia really, really annoyed me, like the fourth book, Princess in Waiting, which was my least favorite book of the series, but there were plenty of great moments as well. Sometimes I needed a break to read a different book that wasn’t in Mia’s head, but I’m glad that I had all of the books on hand to know what happened to Mia right away. I’m definitely excited to see how things will change with the new adult addition to the series coming next year, but either way I think I can happily reread this series every few years. There’s a reason that this series is one of Cabot’s best and why Cabot is one of the most memorable and awesome YA voices out there.