Title: Princess Diaries: Take Two (2001)
Author: Meg Cabot
Narrator: Anne Hathaway
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Read: 10th – 11th January 2018
Genre: young-adult; contemporary
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“Fourteen-year-old Mia Thermopolis is still struggling to come to terms with the fact that she’s a princess – and heir to the throne of Genovia! But when she announces on national TV that her mum is pregnant by her algebra teacher and plans to marry him, a right-royal fuss results! Because now Mia’s totally out-of-control Grandmere is all set to plan the year’s biggest society wedding, with every A-list celeb invited. But will the bride and groom even turn up? And how can Mia find out the true identity of her mysterious secret admirer?” (Synopsis from the publisher)
I can’t deny that a lot of the reasons I’m enjoying these books as much as I am on re-read is because a) Anne Hathaway narrating brings fond memories of the film adaptations, and b) nostalgia for reading these books for the first time when I was younger. When it comes down to actual content, they’re fun and they’re fluff but there’s nothing overly revolutionary about the narrative. They follow the tried-and-tested epistolary formula of journal entries, a necessarily intimate format which allows readers a direct look into the protagonist Mia’s mind as she navigates school and home life, oh and being a princess of Genovia, a small European principality which is a world away from her life in New York City.
“Get Mom to stop hanging bras on bedroom doorknob.”
I’ve heard criticisms along the lines of Princess Diaries being very self-centred and I have to wonder what else you’d expect from a narrative that is told through a teenager’s diary entries? I don’t know about you, dear reader, but when I was a teenager my diary entries were extremely self-centred and overly dramatic – at that stage in life, even the tiniest upset seems like the absolute end of the world – so I can hardly blame Mia for being a little bit dramatic when she discovers she’s actually heir to a small European country! This book delves more into what happens in Mia’s princess lessons with her grand-mère, along with the blossoming relationship between Helen, Mia’s mother, and Frank Gianini, Mia’s algebra teacher. It might not seem like this relationship should have anything to do with Genovia but, in fact, Take Two proves that being a princess puts not only you own, but also your family’s, personal life in the spotlight. On Mia’s front, we see her grapple with her own blossoming crush on Michael, her best friend Lily’s older brother, and a potential secret admirer who she hopes is Michael himself!
“Lilly: Mia, when I recognize a human soul crying out for self-actualization, I am powerless to stop myself. I must do what I can to see that that person’s dream is realized.
(Gee, I haven’t noticed Lilly doing all that much to help me realize my dream of French-kissing her brother. But on the other hand, I have not exactly made that dream known to her.)”
I have a lot of love for our main character, Mia Thermopolis, and find myself instantly cheering her on, even when she makes slightly more questionable decisions. The diary format certainly allows for an instant connection between her protagonist and the reader, and Meg Cabot has created an extremely charming, but flawed, character in Mia. Likewise, her narrative voice sounds reasonably accurate to a teenage girl which probably shouldn’t be (but is) somewhat refreshing. I have trouble “believing” some YA nowadays (mainly of the John Green ilk), because all its teenagers sound like philosophy professors – I’m not so old now that I don’t remember what the inner monologue of my teenage-self was concerned about, and suffice it to say, it probably wasn’t existentialism. So it’s refreshing to find that Mia actually seems like a relatively accurate portrayal of a teenager – as accurate a portrayal as it can be when said teenager also happens to be a European princess.
“It’s sort of weird to be hugged by your Algebra teacher. That’s all I have to say.”
Similarly, although she is essentially a princess-in-waiting, Mia also grapples with what I hesitate to call “typical teenage concerns” – she’s flunking algebra, she feels the pressure of being in a Gifted and Talented program at school, her father is dating, she has a crush on her best friend’s older brother, her mum is dating her algebra teacher, she has a secret admirer – alongside more “princess-y” concerns including television interviews and appearances and persuading her impossible grandmother that her mum definitely doesn’t want a big fancy wedding with A-list celebrities in attendance. The mixture of the more everyday concerns with the more regal is balanced well, I think, and creates a relatable as well as a ridiculous plot that is highly entertaining.
“Today Rommel had on a mink bolero jacket. I am not even joking. It was dyed lavender to match the one slung across Grandmère’s shoulders.”
Ultimately, Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries was likely one of my earlier forays into reading what would now probably be called YA, and I have a significant soft spot for this series because of that very fact. Although they may be a tad dated now (the first book was released back in 2000), and some of their pop culture references fall by the wayside because of it, the nostalgia factor is still high with this one, and I can appreciate this book (and series) for its warmth and humour, the credit of which belongs to its relatable protagonist Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo.
“It’s like I’ve struck a blow for dweebs everywhere, or something.”