The Secret Life of Prince Charming (2009) is the latest book from critically acclaimed writer Deb Caletti. Some have suggested that the cover art is misleading, suggesting to readers that they will find a peppy, romantic comedy type of book inside. If, however, the cover is taken more in terms of generalities, it is a perfect visual representation of this book's core--a meditation on love, truth, family and, of course, relationships.
Seventeen-year-old Quinn has grown up in the shadow of bad relationships. She knows all the gory details of her aunt's numerous breakups, the story behind her grandmother's two collapsed marriages. Quinn and her little sister Sprout are also intimately familiar with their mother's divorce from their father. Despite all that knowing, Quinn is still desperate for her father to be a part of her life.
Still, in order to combat all of those poor choices, Quinn has made herself into the responsible girl who makes good and wise decisions. That facade begins to slip away when Quinn starts to look more closely at her life and the objects that inhabit it. Quinn already knew that her father wasn't perfect. Charming, witty, fun Barry can also be selfish, irresponsible and vindictive. When she realizes that Barry has amassed trophies from every one of his ex-girlfriends, Quinn knows she has to take action.
Such is the start of the road trip at the core of The Secret Life of Prince Charming. With the help of the half-sister she doesn't know and the little sister who might see more clearly than either, Quinn sets out to right her father's wrongs and return the objects to their rightful owners. What starts as a simple delivery mission turns into something more as each stop brings Quinn closer to the father she never really knew.
This book handles a lot of things in a masterful way. First and foremost the writing throughout the novel is, frankly, stunning. Quinn's narrative is interspersed with snippets of advice from the women in Barry's life talking about love and their own past relationships. In total this amounts to about half a dozen different narrative voices in one novel. The characters are all well-realized and truly unique.
Caletti also provides an interesting window onto the reality of divorce as seen by the children when no one is watching. Most of all, though, this story deals with what it really means to have an estranged father. Despite all of the evidence, Quinn loves her father and in many ways idolizes him at the beginning of the story. As the plot moves forward, Quinn is forced to address her mixed feelings for her father and acknowledge that the truth about him might be very different from the image she created over the years. (The idolization of father figures is not always something that makes sense to me butCaletti carefully examines the subject from all angles and integrates it well into the storyline.)
The Secret Life of Prince Charming is not a lot of things. It is not action-packed. It is not, in some ways, much of a romance. It is not fast paced. But this book is compelling and beautiful and highly recommended.