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The Princesses of Iowa Hardcover – May 8, 2012
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From School Library Journal
In this debut novel, Backes takes Dead Poets Society and brings it into the age of Mean Girls. Her writing style is witty while still being relatable, and the themes of acceptance and identity will ring true to teens... Backes re-creates a world that most teens already live in, with the overarching message that anyone can become more than what others perceive them to be.
—School Library Journal
Top Customer Reviews
The Princesses of Iowa book wasn't what I expected at all. It made me feel so much, I don't even really know where to begin. I can tell you that at the time of writing this review, it's been several weeks since I finished reading the book, and it's still on my mind.
Paige is a perfect princess. Or at least, that's the image she's projected to people her entire life. She and her two best friends have worked toward being princesses for most of their lives - being pretty, being popular, and having people see them as worthy of attention and admiration. That's all that really matters in life. But when Paige realizes how shallow and superficial she's been, and that her friends are just as bad - if not worse - life changes completely for her.
Her mother's obsessive need for perfection made Paige paranoid and self-conscious. I lost count of the number of times my jaw dropped at the critical things her mother said, or the back-handed compliments. As ridiculous as it may sound, there were moments when I wanted to cry, because I couldn't imagine a mother actually saying those things, being so selfish, or putting that much pressure on her daughter.
I connected with Paige on a very deep level. Even though her life was completely different from mine, I could put myself in her shoes so easily. Nobody really saw her for her. Nobody knew the real Paige. Paige didn't even really know the real Paige, but as she learned more about herself, as her character grew and changed, I was so proud of her for her self-discovery. Besides her own issues, and the tough life lessons she had to learn, she was surrounded by hypocrisy, racism, bigotry, and homophobia. She'd never realized that before, but she was able to learn the importance of taking responsibility for your actions and not only owning up to your mistakes, but learning from them as well.
The secondary characters were absolutely brilliant, especially Ethan and Shanti. I wish I had friends like them, and I also found myself falling for Ethan. They had surprising depth for secondary characters, and I couldn't wait for more scenes with them. I also liked the progression made by Paige's sister, Miranda/Mirror, and I loved Mr. Tremont, not only because he was a great character in his own right, but also because he was one of the main reasons Paige started to dig deeper and realize her true self.
An unexpected bonus of this book was that there were parts that were hilariously funny. The subject matter was so heavy that it was nice to have those moments where I would laugh until I cried (there was one scene in particular that involved Paige, Ethan, and Shanti). And yet, I would laugh and laugh, and then a minute later, Paige would think or say or do something so heartbreaking or poignant that I'd be ready to cry. And I will admit, I did cry several times. This book really did evoke a lot of emotion in me.
I only have a few small complaints about this book. The first is that it was incredibly long. There were these beautiful, elaborate descriptions that I personally enjoyed and could appreciate as a writer, but I think a lot of other people might see it as unnecessary or `filler'. I read a review where the reviewer said the book was like `a love letter to writing', and that really stuck with me as being true, but again, as a writer, I enjoyed the descriptions. I also thought that for such a long book, the ending was rather abrupt. Everything was technically wrapped up, it just felt sort of rushed after so much story.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Beautiful, poignant, brilliantly funny, and achingly real, The Princesses of Iowa is a debut that should not be missed.
I was having an engaging conversation with someone I had just met (as we were both volunteering for the same organization), and the as we kept talking it came up that we both like to read well developed stories. Not just to escape, but to read interesting stories that make one think. Which is why I had to tell another person why I had read, and enjoyed immensely, a book that was written in the voice of a teenage girl.
As an educated heterosexual adult male, the books most often recommended to me fall along the lines of the Bourne series. They are normally fine, but many times (ok, nearly all of the time) these books rely on the assumed excitement of being in dangerous situations. That's fine, but ...also why I end up reading more technical texts instead of reading for pleasure these days.
I can poke fun of myself, and have brought this up at various social functions because I think it's fairly funny. A couple of times The Princesses of Iowa was mentioned as something that I would definitely enjoy if I was looking for character development.
BUT - I'm a guy. I drink whiskey. I don't read teeny-bopper fiction, and barely made it through Harry Potter. My friends knew this, but still recommended that I give it a shot. Repeatedly.
Thinking more to placate friends I picked it up and got going.
Then something interesting happened; my housemate tried to talk to me. I was not impressed with her timing. I checked my watch and I had been reading for three hours ...and had no intention of stopping. As soon as I realized that was happening, I told her that it was interesting and we could talk about what was going on later - when I was done with the book. Luckily she'd already read it, so I could talk to her about it as soon as I was done.
But why was it so good? I've read critically acclaimed books that did nothing for me at all. What was it about this book that made me stop reading at times and think about what was going on? I don't often meet works that I need to just to absorb what I was reading so that I felt I was getting the full experience. The writing is clear and strong, so I wasn't distracted by word games, and even when conflicting emotions were brought up, or the main character was obviously growing at a painful rate and unable to clearly express out loud what she was doing, the narration of her thoughts was clear enough to not only remind me of those times I thought about the same thoughts (as an adolescent) but to see if I have grown into the type of person that I thought I would, and if I need to set new growth goals as well. All of this set within a dynamic frame with multiple richly deep characters.
I recognize very clearly that this is not a book that was written with me as a target demographic. I also recognize that I wouldn't recommend it to just anyone. But it does keep seeming to come up in conversation and I would be a fool not to endorse this in a place where people are actually looking for this. I have given this book as gift before, and plan on doing so in the future - it's that good.
Google her blog. You'll see what I'm saying.
This was a very interesting book to read. I found myself seriously wanting to smack all of Paige's snobby friends and Paige upside the head. Although annoyed, I find it to be a good thing..It means that I really got into this book. There were so many interesting characters in this book, some obviously I hated, but others I really loved. The Princesses of Iowa deals with a lot of issues from teen drinking to homophobia to self-discovery and growth. I really enjoyed this book and the writing style, from the unusual beginning to the end.
I would absolutely love to read a sequel especially if its more about the down-to earth characters Shanti, Ethan and Mr. Tremont , who in my opinion made the book even more fantastic!
I really loved that this was based in Iowa! I was born in Iowa, but moved to Texas when I was 6. I have many lovely memories of Iowa. It is a very beautiful state!
Special Thanks to Candlewick Press and NetGalley for providing an e-galley in exchange for an honest review
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I admit that I was a bit hesitant going into this book due to so many middle-of-the-road and disappointed reviews...Read more