The Princess Diaries: Book One
by Meg Cabot
(Harper Collins, $15.95, PG) ISBN 0-380-97848-2
****
Meg Cabot, who also writes historical romance as Patricia Cabot, delivers up a delightful story for the contemporary young adult reader with The Princess Diaries: Book One. But don’t judge a book by its target market. Adults will enjoy this tale of a New York teenager who finds, to her horror, that she’s the princess of a tiny European principality. Plus, it’s a hoot.

Amelia Thermopolis, Mia to her friends, is a freshman at Albert Einstein High School. She’s five-foot-nine and flat-chested, both of which are a constant source of worry and embarrassment to her. She’s not only flunking Algebra, her artist mother has begun dating the teacher. Her cat, Fat Louie, eats socks when he’s depressed. The cutest boy in school has the locker next to hers and never notices her. And now her father is back in town, with some bad news. He’s had cancer treatment and can no longer father children, which makes Mia the unexpected heir to the principality of Genovia. To top it off, Grandmere is coming to give Mia “Princess Lessons”.

But Mia’s not going down without a fight. Move to Genovia? No way. And if she has to spend time on princess lessons, she’s going to bargain for it. Before the dust settles, Mia has not only learned more than she ever wanted about acting princess-like, she’s also learned more about herself and the kind of person she wants to be.

The Princess Diaries, as the title implies, is written in diary format. Through Mia’s entries, we meet the rest of the cast: Lilly Moscovitz, her pugnacious best friend; Michael, Lilly’s brother, who may become more important to Mia than she ever imagined; Tina Hakim Baba, the only other girl at Albert Einstein with a bodyguard; Lana Weinberger, the popular, and poisonous, cheerleader. There’s also Grandmere, whose regal exterior hides a surprising loyalty. All of them figure in the story.

But it’s Mia, front and center, who will steal your heart. Honest and funny, her clear-eyed commentary on the looniness around her is guaranteed to make you laugh. Take her description of eating lunch with Tina, with their respective bodyguards in tow:

Wahim and Lars were sitting next to us, arguing over whose gun had the most firepower, Wahim’s 357 Magnum or Lars’s 9mm Glock. It was kind of a disturbing topic, but they both seemed happy as could be. In a minute or two, I expected they’d start to arm wrestle.

Of course, once word gets out that there’s a real, live princess at Albert Einstein High School, Mia’s life will get more complicated, and a lot more rewarding.

This is the first in a planned series of The Princess Diaries. The Disney movie version will be released in the fall of 2001, but I’d recommend reading the book to get the full flavor. The movie trailer already shows major changes, and movies being what they are, it’s not likely they’ll enhance the story.

The Princess Diaries is too good to miss. I can hardly wait to see what Mia will be up to next.

--Cathy Sova


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