I have to admit I found Secrets of a Reluctant Princess to be far too formulaic to keep my interest. There have been some GREAT geek YA novels lately (e.g.,The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl and the fantastic The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You) and so there is much to measure up to in this subject. But cardboard characters, the prototypical plot, a rather unfunny attempt at humor, and an insipid topical plot left me very underwhelmed.
Story: Andy is a geek who was bullied her whole life in Seattle because her father makes toilet/bathroom accessories. But when one of his inventions make them rich, they move to Beverly Hills and become the subject of a reality TV show: the Bathroom Barons. Our Porcelain Princess has the chance to be popular and hang out with the cool kids at Beverly Hills High – but are they interested in her or her fame? And why does she keep thinking about the handsome boy who enjoys Live Action Role Playing (LARP) and is bullied because of it? Life is about to get even more complicated for the Porcelain Princess when the producer of the TV show takes matters into his own hands to make the show racier and more scandalous.
There are two ‘hooks’ with this book: The Kardashians-like life of a reality TV star and the geek world (anime, comics, Larping). The problem here is that neither angles are really explored or expounded upon in a way that elevates the story. The reality TV angle should have been funny but it became tedious fast – Andy being hounded by an unconscionable producer and many misrepresentations of otherwise innocent situations. There’s so much room here for a clever social commentary but Griffin never really explores the wealth of satire available; the TV show is just set dressing so Andy can have misunderstandings with hot geek boy Kevin.
The geek angle is similarly grossly underused. We are told over and over that she loves geeky things like comic books and anime. But other than a few sentences and a wardrobe malfunction featuring wonder woman emblazoned underwear, we get absolutely no perspective of Andy’s secret geekiness. There is no ‘show’ to the ‘tell’ – nothing about anime whatsoever, no parallels to her life and comic characters, no superhero Easter eggs or wink winks. Rather, all we know of Andy is that she hates the cameras around her, is annoyed that her parents didn’t buy her a car, and she has the hots for geek boy Kevin. My own geek heart wilted and cried at the missed opportunities – even the Larping with Kevin felt contrived and unrealistic. Neither character felt authentic as a result.
The book also hits most of the cliches of the YA romance genre: insta luv, big misunderstandings, smelling the boy all the time, girl being rude and mean to show that she is ‘spirited’, the boy not minding the rude and obnoxious attitude and thinking that is ‘cute’, the archetypal mean girls and stupid jocks in high school, the interrupted confessions, etc. etc. I’ve read this before and there just isn’t a single original piece in this entire book, sadly.
Secrets of a Reluctant Princess isn’t a terrible book. I’d categorize it as a light fluffy read for undemanding readers who think the Kardashians are awesome. Everyone else might be a bit bored by the well worn path this book’s plot takes. Those who love geek stories should really check out the two books mentioned earlier in the review – they revel in, explore, and really bring out the pathos and humor in the wonderful world of comics, anime, and geekdom. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.