“Lilly says I have an overactive imagination and a pathological need to invent drama in my life.”
Mia Thermopolis is just your average fourteen-year old girl, worried that she’s ugly, worried that her hair is dorky, worried that she’s going to fail Algebra, worried that she’s recently discovered she’s heir to the throne of a small principality called Genovia. Perhaps the last one isn’t so relateable, but the entire strength in Meg Cabot’s famous Princess Diaries series is the journal format which allows readers an intimate insight into the profound (and, let’s face it, not so profound) thoughts of a teenage girl who is just as concerned about her mum dating her teacher as she is about learning the correct way to eat soup.
“Is everything all right? Is everything all right? Hmm, hold on a minute, let me see… my mom is going out with my Algebra teacher, a subject I’m flunking, by the way; my best friend hates me; I’m fourteen years old and I’ve never been asked out; I don’t have any breasts; and oh, I just found out I’m the princess of Genovia.”
The first book introduces us to Mia, her friends, and her family. To say they have their quirks would be generous. Even from this first book, I find myself hating her nemesis (nemeses?), Lana and Josh, the popular couple that are so perfect that you do have to wonder why they need to pick on people to validate their own perceived social superiority. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the Moscovitzes who are wonderful, from Lilly’s very loud activism against apparently racist deli owners, to the Doctors Moscovitz who are wonderful even from the periphery, to Michael… what need I say about Michael Moscovitz? Well the fact I still yell at Mia on this re-read because she needs to realise he likes her probably says something about how much of a sucker I am for this character.
“Needless to say, the fact that he actually spoke to me at all practically caused me to pass out. And then the fact that he was actually saying something that sounded like it might be a prelude to asking me out – well, I nearly threw up. I mean it. I felt really sick, but in a good way.”
One caution I would say is that if you’re coming to the series from the films, don’t expect them to be the same, because they so incredibly aren’t. The setting, for a start, is New York City instead of San Francisco, which doesn’t sound like it would make an awful lot of difference, but it does affect the tone of the book. More importantly, Mia’s father is very much alive, very much concerned about Helen Thermopolis’ dating life, and moping around their loft when she’s out on said dates. Mia’s grandmother – grandmere – is not Julie Andrews. She is mean, she is outspoken, and a reader is left with the distinct impression that her voice would not narrate a fairy tale. She is, to summarise, heinous and completely brilliant for it.
“ “What’d you say to them? What’d you say to convince them to let me go?”
But Grandmère just laughed in this scary way and said, “I have my ways.”
Boy, did I ever not hate her then.”
Meanwhile our eponymous princess is frequently dramatic and, yes, sometimes you do want to shake her by the shoulders, but you know what? She’s a teenager. A teenager who has been told she’s a princess. I think we can all excuse some self-absorbed journal entries following that little revelation and just enjoy this book/series for both the humour and the heart that it holds from the very beginning. I know I did when I first read it as teen myself and I still proudly do now as a twenty two-year old – admittedly a twenty-something currently experiencing something of a quarter-life crisis from the realisation that the recent revamped editions of this series are to mark the fifteenth anniversary of this book’s publication. Turns out we all grow up, but it’s enormously relieving to find that re-reading an old favourite series isn’t any less enjoyable now.