The Princesses of Iowa was written by M. Molly Backes, who went to the same small Iowan college as I did. I don’t actually know her, but Grinnell College is small enough that we’re basically one degree of separation apart. So that’s cool, right? Librarian cool? Totally. However I think you will like this book even if you don’t have a soul bond to Iowa like I do.
The Princesses of Iowa is a story about a girl named Paige, who is nothing like what I was in high school–she’s beautiful, popular, and a homecoming princess (and if she’s lucky, will be named queen)! I didn’t necessarily want to be like Paige in high school, either–my friends and I all pretty much thought the homecoming court was dumb. That was one thing I liked so much about Princesses of Iowa, the chance to get into the head of a girl who actually wants to be on the homecoming court. But it turns out that Paige cares about more than just homecoming court. She cares about her friends, who she’s been drifting away from ever since they were all in a drunk driving accident at the end of their junior year. Paige’s image-obsessed mother sent Paige off to Paris to be an au-pair for the summer in the hopes that everything would blow over, but instead her friends ended up jealous of her trip and Paige feels excluded from them. Then, for her elective she takes creative writing with a cool new teacher while the rest of her friends take film studies. At first she feels left out he turns out to really like creative writing, though, and ends up making some new friends in the class–even though she’s embarrassed that they’re not as “cool” as her other friends, she has fun with them and admires their talent as writers.
The Princesses of Iowa also tackles the issue of hate speech and hate crimes in high school. Things start off with the kinds of casual anti-gay slurs that are unfortunately pretty common in most high schools and then get out of control. Paige ends up in the middle of something she didn’t really intend to do. There’s a lot going on in this book, but it never feels preachy. All of Backes’s characters are complex, and the reader even ends up feeling (a little) sympathy for Paige’s shallow mom and her cowardly boyfriend.
Oh, and I recommend listening to this song while you read:
Reviewed by: teen librarian Renata
Recommended for: high school princesses and non-princesses alike