The Princesses of Iowa

Young Adult Book Review

Book cover image of The Princesses of IowaWhen I saw this book title, I just had to check it out.  I’m from Iowa.  I’m not a princess, per se, but I wondered if this book’s setting would be reminiscent of my youth.  Like most readers, I enjoy reading about characters that seem similar to me or to someone I know.

But this book is not about me.  This book is about the girls I wanted to be in high school – the girls on the Homecoming court, the ones who ruled the school and their small Iowa town.  I probably realized even then that these girls didn’t have perfect lives... but their hair and clothes were so much better than mine.  They had actual boyfriends, not just crushes.  I thought, how bad can a princess’s life really be?

The Princesses of Iowa in this book --  Paige, Lacey, and Nikki -- are on top of the world until a drunken car crash changes their lives right before senior year.  While they’re all physically okay, their friendship will never be the same. They all have a different memory of who is most to blame for the accident.

The book follows Paige as she realizes that her true friends – and a better boyfriend than her temperamental quarterback sweetheart – may only be found outside of the “popular” circle.  She also takes a creative writing class with a new teacher and discovers that she actually cares about writing, and her new friends do, too.  It’s a way for her to express what she really feels, rather than that fake princess façade she’s been hiding behind. 

What I don’t like about this book is Paige’s mother, who is ruthless in her pursuit of image above all and especially of a homecoming crown for her daughter.  I know there are shallow people like her in the world, but I really wanted her to go away.  I also cringed at a few stereotypical comments characters made about race and sexuality. (But of course people in Iowa and everywhere else do make these comments.  Where I grew up, diversity was the girl who went to the Lutheran church instead of the Catholic one everybody else went to.)  There’s also a fair amount of silly teen banter and princess-y nonsense in the book that can make you roll your eyes as you wait for the characters to wake up and mature already. 

However, this young adult book really tries to raise awareness of serious issues and to point out several morals.  When rumors start swirling that the new writing teacher is gay, some concerned community members and parents stage a protest at the school and get him to resign.  Paige and other students push back with a protest of their own.  Nikki launches a campaign for awareness of the dangers of teens drinking and driving. 

The obvious moral unfolds as Paige realizes that popularity and princesshood are not all they’re cracked up to be, and that she has to show everyone who she really is inside.  All in all, a good read for teen girls, aspiring teen writers or curious Iowans.

-- Heather Petsche