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Like most girls who graduated in 1999, my prom dress was pastel and poofy (thanks for the inspiration, Gwyneth.)
My mom loves to tell how after Fergie and Andrew’s wedding, I informed her that I would marry a prince… but she’d have to help me find one.
My princess complex is long gone in my real life. I married my best friend, who has neither castle nor horse and has never taken me to the ball. Moana’s my Disney lady of choice. And I’m raising girls who are just as likely to choose a ninja costume as a fluffy dress. Or my favorite fusion, the Dragon Ballerina.
But you guys, I’m a Roxane Gay-style Bad Feminist. Her kryptonite is Sweet Valley High; mine is normal-girl-becomes-princess stories. This is embarrassing at the library: you pretend you’re picking them up for your niece. But in a world gone crazy and a house full of chores, there are very few scenarios more fun to escape to. Here are a few of my favorites:
If you read YA and haven’t picked up Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries, what are you doing with your life?? The books are not the Hathaway/Andrews cotton candy of the movies (only Year Of Yes made me forgive Shonda for that sequel screenplay). Mia is a snarky, messy New York teen who has the stress of internationally broadcast speeches on top of the school play (and cheesy biopics about herself). These are probably the funniest books on this list and, despite the sparkly tiara covers, you won’t have to do much swallowing of feminist rage to read them. Just occasional rage at the stupidity of 15 year-olds if you read too many of the series back to back. Bonus: Cabot’s Middle School Princess spin-off series is fun to read with any kiddos in your life.
On the slightly less fluffy side of the coin, Shannon Hale has become one of my absolute favorites over the last few years. Her Princess Academy books are perfectly appropriate for a middle-grade reader, and they have enough action, adventure and political intrigue that my husband enjoyed them just as much as I did. Hale’s first book, The Goose Girl, is the exact opposite of this genre– it’s a suddenly-not-a-princess story– so I obviously like it a smidge less, but it’s still good reading.
Bonus: Hale also writes my kids’ favorite picture-book princess, The Princess in Black. Grab it for anybody under 10.
We’ve talked about The Royal We on TN before, but if you haven’t read it yet, it’s time. Or time for a reread if you have. Especially with Megan Markle showing up to weddings and polo matches this summer. This is the greatest beach book or summer pick for your book club– it’s just grown-up and un-pulpy enough to not be embarrassing to admit to other adults that you liked it, and it has the perfect balance of fluff with story you can sink your teeth into. Is it kind of Will and Kate fanfic? Yeah… but with enough originality that you won’t feel squicky about it. It’s one of those rare love stories that builds slowly, letting you watch and listen to the characters fall in love instead of just telling you that they did. And the authors (my much-loved Fug Girls) do a way better job than most suddenly-princess books of making their story interact with real history and dynasties. Yay for research!
If you like this one and need more, or want something similar without the real-life inspiration, the next best variation I’ve found is Hester Browne’s The Runaway Princess. I give it three stars instead of 4, but it’s still good fun (as is The Finishing Touches… which may be the peak literary embodiment of Bad Feminism).
I’m far less inclined to read explicit sex than the vast majority of TN writers. But in this genre I’ve been known to unwittingly download something and get completely sucked into the story before the smut kicks in… and then I end up skimming past the sex to find out what happens. I always have to know what happens. These never end up on my Goodreads account because I’m a tiny bit of a hypocrite. My favorite is Nichole Chase’s series that starts with Suddenly Royal.
The first in the series is essentially a grown-up version of The Princess Diaries and the sequels are as fun as the first.
Honorable Mentions: Megan Mulry only offers us a duke, not a prince, in A Royal Pain and the series following, but you take what you can get. Palaces. Tiaras. Never washing dishes again. It’s a fantasy for a reason.
Rachel Hauck’s series about Southern good-girls becoming European Princesses is probably the least realistic of all the universally unrealistic books on this list. They’re obviously written for especially for Southern Baptist church ladies… if Hauck wants to convey that a character is evil, she gives them a glass of wine with dinner. There are random miraculous events (including a phantom historical inn staffed by what are probably angels!) that I would have cut if I had the editor’s pen. There are basically zero African-American characters despite the actual demographics of the setting– the characters I pictured initially as people of color inevitably turned out to be blond or ginger 50 pages in. And yet I couldn’t stop reading this series, and might reread it eventually. They’re like popcorn–fluffy junk you can pretend is wholesome. That’s normal, right?
Please tell me I’m not the only one with a terminal weakness for suddenly-princess stories? Which ones have I missed? Make me a summer reading list!
Bea loves life in the Pacific Northwest, rereading old novels and weird varieties of pickles. She can dive deep on Harry Potter, Twilight, 90’s CCM, celeb fashion or foreign policy. She’s trying to figure out what to do when the little one goes to kindergarten, what to make for dinner and how to be a feminist who can’t pass up a princess book.