Monday, May 7, 2012

The Princesses of Iowa - M. Molly Backes

Synopsis: What does it mean to do wrong, when no one punishes you? A smart and unflinching look at friendship, the nature of entitlement, and growing up in the heartland.
Paige Sheridan has the perfect life. She's pretty, rich, and popular, and her spot on the homecoming court is practically guaranteed. But when a night of partying ends in an it-could-have-been-so-much worse crash , everything changes. Her best friends start ignoring her, her boyfriend grows cold and distant, and her once-adoring younger sister now views her with contempt. The only bright spot isher creative writing class, led by a charismatic new teacher who encourages students to be true to themselves. But who is Paige, if not the homecoming princess everyone expects her to be? In this arresting and witty debut, a girl who was once high-school royalty must face a truth that money and status can't fix, and choose between living the privileged life of a princess, or owning up to her mistakes and giving up everything she once held dear. (From Goodreads)

This book is something special. As far as the plot goes, or even just looking at the synopsis, it doesn't seem out of the ordinary. It presents as your average popular girl gets a clue and finds that the meaning of life is being true to yourself and not who other people want you to be. But the way this story is told, the complexity of the situation, and the details make it stand out as a spectacular piece of young adult fiction.

Paige and her friends are dealing with the aftermath of a drinking and driving accident. Paige and her two best friends are basically royalty in town (thus, the title) so they're almost treated like tragic victims, rather than girls who made terrible decisions and caused an accident that was entirely their own fault. They get off easily, but they basically spend the entire book punishing themselves in little ways. Mainly, these three girls are struggling to remain friends, while they're simultaneously widening the gap between who they were before and who they've become. The way they begin to move on with out one another is painful, as it's clear each girl is dealing with the fall out, but at the same time it feels completely necessary.

It's pretty clear from the beginning that Paige is headed somewhere promising, but that the process is going to be painful and confusing. So the small threads that she begins to trace towards that outcome are highly encouraging. Those threads are the new people in her life - the people who just let her be who she is at that moment - they don't have expectations or illusions about who she's supposed to be. Even if Paige's developing relationships cause further problems - these relationships are worth it when they demonstrate what real friendship is.

Back to the things that are painful and confusing - you'd think that a car accident after drinking and driving would be the highest hurdle Paige would have to face. Yet, she winds up having to deal with more than her fair share of tough stuff. There's a lot of drinking, homophobia, a near sexual assault, and even just the verbal abuse that comes from Paige's friends and her own mother. Still, with the support of her new friends, she's able to put those things away where they can only work to make her stronger.

What makes this book extraordinary, though, is the creative writing teacher. He gives Paige and his students the TOOLS to deal with their hurt and anger. He teaches them to take those things and turn it into something productive. Paige begins dealing and moving on through writing. She's not a spectacular writer by any means and she's thoroughly afraid to show her writing, but just through the act of writing she's able to process and sort out the details and the feelings that stem from her past.

Further, this writing aspect that is at the heart of the novel is pulled off by Backes own extraordinary writing. She changes her writing style subtly, almost sneakily, to match what Paige is going through. The passage that sticks out is one where Paige is incredibly inebriated and the writing changes to reflect that. Everything that Paige feels is naturally transferred to the reader. Backes's incredible control over her narrative is so impressive. Between the amazing writing, the subject matter, and the way that the story goes straight to your heart, shakes everything up, and then sets up camp - this book is one of the greats. I've already gushed to my English teacher friends, and I think anyone who's either a teenager or deals with teenagers, or anyone who needs to believe in the power of words, needs to read this book.

3 comments:

  1. Great Review!

    I cannot tell you how glad I am to hear that the writing is well and that this book lives up to expectations! I'm really excited to read it ASAP!!


    -Jac @ For Love and Books

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great review, I am so intrigued in this book as an Iowa girl!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I liked the synopsis but your review made me want to read this book so badly! Thanks so much for sharing ;)

    ReplyDelete

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Princesses of Iowa - M. Molly Backes

Synopsis: What does it mean to do wrong, when no one punishes you? A smart and unflinching look at friendship, the nature of entitlement, and growing up in the heartland.
Paige Sheridan has the perfect life. She's pretty, rich, and popular, and her spot on the homecoming court is practically guaranteed. But when a night of partying ends in an it-could-have-been-so-much worse crash , everything changes. Her best friends start ignoring her, her boyfriend grows cold and distant, and her once-adoring younger sister now views her with contempt. The only bright spot isher creative writing class, led by a charismatic new teacher who encourages students to be true to themselves. But who is Paige, if not the homecoming princess everyone expects her to be? In this arresting and witty debut, a girl who was once high-school royalty must face a truth that money and status can't fix, and choose between living the privileged life of a princess, or owning up to her mistakes and giving up everything she once held dear. (From Goodreads)

This book is something special. As far as the plot goes, or even just looking at the synopsis, it doesn't seem out of the ordinary. It presents as your average popular girl gets a clue and finds that the meaning of life is being true to yourself and not who other people want you to be. But the way this story is told, the complexity of the situation, and the details make it stand out as a spectacular piece of young adult fiction.

Paige and her friends are dealing with the aftermath of a drinking and driving accident. Paige and her two best friends are basically royalty in town (thus, the title) so they're almost treated like tragic victims, rather than girls who made terrible decisions and caused an accident that was entirely their own fault. They get off easily, but they basically spend the entire book punishing themselves in little ways. Mainly, these three girls are struggling to remain friends, while they're simultaneously widening the gap between who they were before and who they've become. The way they begin to move on with out one another is painful, as it's clear each girl is dealing with the fall out, but at the same time it feels completely necessary.

It's pretty clear from the beginning that Paige is headed somewhere promising, but that the process is going to be painful and confusing. So the small threads that she begins to trace towards that outcome are highly encouraging. Those threads are the new people in her life - the people who just let her be who she is at that moment - they don't have expectations or illusions about who she's supposed to be. Even if Paige's developing relationships cause further problems - these relationships are worth it when they demonstrate what real friendship is.

Back to the things that are painful and confusing - you'd think that a car accident after drinking and driving would be the highest hurdle Paige would have to face. Yet, she winds up having to deal with more than her fair share of tough stuff. There's a lot of drinking, homophobia, a near sexual assault, and even just the verbal abuse that comes from Paige's friends and her own mother. Still, with the support of her new friends, she's able to put those things away where they can only work to make her stronger.

What makes this book extraordinary, though, is the creative writing teacher. He gives Paige and his students the TOOLS to deal with their hurt and anger. He teaches them to take those things and turn it into something productive. Paige begins dealing and moving on through writing. She's not a spectacular writer by any means and she's thoroughly afraid to show her writing, but just through the act of writing she's able to process and sort out the details and the feelings that stem from her past.

Further, this writing aspect that is at the heart of the novel is pulled off by Backes own extraordinary writing. She changes her writing style subtly, almost sneakily, to match what Paige is going through. The passage that sticks out is one where Paige is incredibly inebriated and the writing changes to reflect that. Everything that Paige feels is naturally transferred to the reader. Backes's incredible control over her narrative is so impressive. Between the amazing writing, the subject matter, and the way that the story goes straight to your heart, shakes everything up, and then sets up camp - this book is one of the greats. I've already gushed to my English teacher friends, and I think anyone who's either a teenager or deals with teenagers, or anyone who needs to believe in the power of words, needs to read this book.

3 comments:

  1. Great Review!

    I cannot tell you how glad I am to hear that the writing is well and that this book lives up to expectations! I'm really excited to read it ASAP!!


    -Jac @ For Love and Books

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great review, I am so intrigued in this book as an Iowa girl!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I liked the synopsis but your review made me want to read this book so badly! Thanks so much for sharing ;)

    ReplyDelete