I remember The Princess Diaries with some degree of fondness. I don’t know if it’s because of the film (which was boss, with baby Anne Hathaway and classy-as-fuck Julie Andrews) or the misty veil of time which makes everything seem a bit better than it actually is. I do also remember becoming increasingly unsatisfied with the stories, but was unsure whether to attribute this to an increase in age or decrease in quality. I’m loath to think badly of the series, as, not having had reliable access to the internet in the early parts of my teenagerhood, and certainly no access to anything such as Goodreads which might have helped me to form my opinions a little more carefully, it was one of the few YA series that actually made it into my life at The Right Time.
But you can see where this is going.
The setup is pretty hard to swallow, so if you can’t even get past that, you have a serious problem. Basically, Mia Thermopolis is actually not Mia Thermopolis. She’s Amelia Renaldi (like fuck am I typing out the rest of her name) and she’s really a princess. Hilarity ensues. Purportedly. So, accepting that, let’s move on to the book itself.
It opens so promisingly, with one of my favourite lines from one of my favourite books ever:
It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.
Too true, Sara, too true.
Anyway, the real beginning of the book is kind of nifty. Mia’s mother begins dating her Algebra teacher and Mia is, justifiably, Freaked Out. But because she’s a “people pleaser” type, she doesn’t say anything and her mum, realising this, makes her start writing a diary? Which is kind of weird and I’m not actually sure why Mia starts doing it, but okay. So Mia waffles about being a freak because she’s skinny and tall which, sure. Pull the other one. (Side note – I had no idea what a freshman was when I read this book because we don’t have them here, at least in high school. So I was super-confused for quite a while.) Also, some neat “foreshadowing” of Mia not being the greatest with numbers:
There are four million people in Manhattan, right? That makes about two million of them guys. So out of TWO MILLION guys, she has to go out with Mr. Gianini.
If half of Manhattan is male, some of them are going to be under the age of consent, for starters. But never mind that! Actually, secondary side note: just ONCE I would like a YA novel where the protagonist wasn’t crap at Maths. The only time it ever happens is where they are also a super-genius at everything else. It is possible to like and be good at Maths and Arts subjects like English without being a genius – I am living breathing proof. I loved Maths, a lot, and I was good at it. I worked hard at it – but I was good at it. I get really frustrated every time I read a YA novel and the protag is all: “HURR DON’T CARE ABOUT MATH BAD AT IT WHY NUMBERS AND LETTERS GO TOGETHER?” I’m sure it’s an experience a lot of people have, but a lot of people don’t and I wish it wasn’t sort of universally accepted.
Anyway, cut to Mia-at-school, where her spectacularly unhelpful friend Lilly is being spectacularly unhelpful by not sympathising with her Algebra-teacher-related horror. Though Mia is really oddly obsessed with tongue-in-mouth kissing. It’s at this point that a creeping feeling of Meg Cabot having had no memory of being in high school or a teenager begins to, well, creep. I remember a lot of obsessing about <em>if</em you’d been kissed, and by who. Less about the mechanics, or not in such weird terms anyway. But Mia spends the full page talking about various tongue-kissing scenarios:
I don’t think my mom would let a guy put his tongue in her mouth on the first date.
I saw Josh Richter stick his tongue in Lana Weinberger’s mouth last week.
I can’t say I’d mind if Josh Richter kissed <em>me</em> like that.
Stop, Mia. You are being kind of… creepy.
She relates seeing Josh (who she obviously and predictably is in twu wuv with) at a shop buying Drakkar Noir (any relation to Sex Panther?) and how he noticed her and oh my god why did I ever like these. That said, Lilly is not excited that Mia spoke to her crush, which, given how self-hating Mia appears to be right from the off, is a big thing for her. No, she does the following, which I hail as the inaugural entry in the “Why Lilly Moscovitz is the worst friend in the entire world” list:
Lilly says Josh’s synapses were probably misfiring that day, due to heatstroke or something… why else, she asked, would the most popular senior in high school say hey to me, Mia Thermopolis, a lowly freshman?
Gee, I wonder why Mia has self-esteem issues? Of course, Mia ruins any sympathy I had towards her by being a big giant doof:
The truth is, when he’s away from Lana… Josh is a totally different person… I sae the deeply sensitive person inside him, struggling to get out.
Who SAYS things like that? Has Mia never read a book, seen a film, or watched TV? I know I need to cut her some slack because she’s only fourteen, but man alive, there’s naive and the there’s almost braindead. WHY if Mia feels like such a misfit at school does she want validation from the people who make her feel like that? The mind boggles. Anyway, before I can have an aneurysm about that, Mia goes back to talking about her mum and Mr. G:
She’s so totally happy about this date, it’s enough to make me want to throw up.
Way to be supportive! Although the line below suggests that Mia’s mum regularly forgets that her daughter doesn’t eat meat, so I guess it’s a two-way street. Boring, unfunny to-do list breaks up the days (does anyone actually regularly measure their chest for non-clothing reasons?), then, this:
Lana hissed in this really mean voice:
Good god, get me the smelling salts! How very DARE she! This, again, felt so much like an example of MC trying to be down with the kids and very much… not being down with the kids. Like, this is such an optimistic view of the cutting things people say to each other in high school. It’s not a cool or nice thing to say in any way, but it’s hardly worth even mentioning. It’s totally clumsy writing, and enforces that weird popular people are bad, nerdy people are awesome stereotype that’s unforgivably cliche by this point. Blah blah, what does Josh see in her, weird mention of Princess Diana for no reason (I feel like this was a recurring thing – the British Royal Family are nowhere near as cool or interesting as Mia thinks they are!)
F in Algebra, Mia’s life sucks, Mr. G (does anyone actually write diary entries this detailed? I’ll chalk this down to “suspend disbelief” but still!) Michael, Lilly’s brother appears, to be briefly snarky (and laugh like the Count from Sesame Street? One! One slutty mommy! Ha! Ha! Ha!) and the concept of Gifted and Talented is introduced. I find it frankly hilarious that Mia would even get near a class called anything like this, as so far she’s shown a talent for:
- being an idiot
- being naive
- failing algebra
- writing weirdly long, self-involved, yet shallow diary entries
- which is totally not the same as what I’m doing here
But G&T turns out to be a slack-off session, which I guess makes sense.
What we’re all doing is figuring out ways to lock the new Russian kid, who’s supposedly this musical genius, in the supply closet so we don’t have to listen to any more Stravinsky on his stupid violin.
This earned a laugh. Point, Cabot.
“What’ll you do for me, huh, Thermopolis? What’ll you do for me?”
What could I do for someone like that?
Snerk. But seriously, “Thermopolis”, Michael wants to bone you. I knew this the first time round, I know it now. You’re a tumshie. Mia continues to talk about Michael as she appears to need to be constantly writing. We learn that Michael is pretty much perfect, if a little “edgy teen” and that I have no idea what Josh Richter’s comparative merits are, because Mia knows nothing about him. Fantastic. Lilly, however, does something useful (don’t get used to it) by pointing out to Mia that:
[Michael] had been sexually harassing me but I didn’t notice.
I wouldn’t call it harassment per se, but it was definitely mildly flirtatious.
This scene is followed by a list of hottest guys, compiled by Mia and Lilly. Hilarity ensues. Josh aside, this is still a questionable list. Fictional characters aside, Prince William is going bald and inbred looking, much like the rest of his family. Pierce Brosnan hasn’t been in anything good since Bond, and those were of questionable quality even then. Daniel Day-Lewis could not be less attractive, just on a general level. I dunno, I know this was written in 2000, but this does not seem like your typical girly crush list from then – like, where was Leonardo Di Caprio? Justin Timberlake? Idk? I didn’t ever have a crush on these people because I lived under a rock, but I was aware of other people having them? Sigh, I dunno. ANYWAY.
When am I going to actually use the FOIL method in real life?
Argh. Mia’s dad phones. I bet he’s not going to be important at all! More boob-session, which is getting severely weird. I knew a LOT of flat-chested fourteen year olds. I’d hazard a guess at even most of them weren’t terribly well-endowed. I felt weird for having such big boobs – anyway, that’s hardly the point. Except to say that I feel Mia’s pain about strapless dresses from the side of the spectrum that hates wearing them because I have to attempt strapless bras and a WORLD of no.
Mom’s been depressed ever since her last boyfriend turned out to be a Republican.
Again, this made me laugh, even if it’s a little too “HAHA CONSERVATIVES”.
I kind of tried to find out if there had been any kissing, particualrly of the tongue-in-mouth variety.
MIA STOP THAT IS YOUR MOTHER MY GOD.
Oh, Lilly has a TV show. Is it just me or does that seem weirdly unlikely? Like, I have an embarrassing lack of knowledge about America except via mainstream media depiction, and I KNOW Lilly’s family are super-rich, but this still seems pretty far-fetched if you ask me. Particularly as Lilly is singularly unlikeable.
Skipping ahead, Mia’s dad calls again (I WONDER WHY) and Mia goes on an endearing little rant about Iceland, which I kind of love.
Much more fun than Manhattan, where people sometimes spit at you for no reason.
Sounds like Glasgow. But then:
I only shared this information with him because he is a politician.
I had to do a fact sheet on… Genovia.
Given that we know what’s coming – what? How does Mia know THIS LITTLE about her family. I know I said earlier that this is just something you have to accept about the books – the really, really unlikely premise. But come the fuck on! How do you NOT know that your dad is a prince when you did A FACTSHEET ON HIS COUNTRY? How do you know that he’s a “politician” but that is all? Mia is pretty dense, I know, but this just strikes me as so contrived that I can’t quite grasp why Cabot thought people would buy it.
Following the theme of being totally obsessed with body parts, Lana comments on Mia’s booblessness, and High School Ensues. None of this is interesting, so let’s skip ahead to Mia getting home and her mother Needing to Talk. Turns out her dad had Cancer of the Contrivance and now can’t have any more kids. Shame, that. Mia fails to be understanding, feeling the need to say WELL, HE STILL HAS HER. Despite almost never seeing him, but whatever. Her dad is flying to New York for some undisclosed reason and we are left in mystery.
And because this is getting ridiculously long, I’m going to leave it there. NEXT TIME: why does Mia’s dad want to see her? Will Mia take her head out of the sand? Is Lilly as awful as she seems (yes)? Can we have more Michael? FIND OUT!