Pride and Princesses by Summer Day

 

The cover is pink, and the story has an alliterative title. I had found an actual book store with print books and had just run out of things to read. Whatever my excuse for purchasing the book, I beg you not to judge me too harshly for finishing it. Remember, dear reader, I do this, in large measure, for your sake.
I also like to see things through. Perhaps that is a fault.

My initial comments on the text took seven pages in 11 pt font in Word. Overwhelmed by my own analysis, I am including my comments on the language usage, spelling, and set-up with my analysis of the actual story. It’s just easier that way, since there are so many of the former.

The basic plot is this: our protagonist, Phoebe, and her best friend, Mouche, are high school students in Los Angeles. Phoebe is English and dreams of living in New York City. She and Moche are “like sisters,” one with dark hair (Lizzy) and one with dark (Jane) and also with “different but complimentary personalities” (10, 9). Spelling error included. Phoebe makes a point of mentioning early on “the amazing competition Mouche and [she] feel at times” (11). Their “daddies . . . turned gay for each other,” and then “had financial collapses” and left their families (11). Heart-rending, perhaps, but these girls are annoying. I know they’re young, but their conversations—“the kiss has to live up to your expectations or it’s never going to happen”—and imagination—“we’d both faint if anyone found out we’d taken pictures of boys we’d never even met”—seem more flighty than the teenage girls I know (13). Their big plan is to write a “dating manual for teenage girls, but they have little experience (14). It soon becomes the Boy-Rating Diary, which is offensive for obvious reasons (25).

Mark Knightly (Knightly: really? How can someone writing a novel about our characters not spell their names correctly?) arrives with Jet, so that could be Darcy and Bingley, especially because at least one has a sister who “could be a mini model” (7). Not sure what a mini model is, but okay. He could also be Mr. Knightley. Or Mark Darcy. Jet focuses “on the upside of any given situation,” while Mark comments “languidly” on the locals of Los Angeles (7). Sounds like Darcy and Bingley so far. Awkwardly, the narrator introduces Teegan as “one of the meanest Princesses in school” but then doesn’t explain that Princesses are “a clique of besties” until the next page (6-7).

The first actual mention of Austen comes in chapter 2. Our heroine says she thinks Mark is “hotter” than Jet “simply” because she has “been reading Austen and decided” she likes “dark haired men” (17). Really? That’s the lesson she learns from Austen? Later, Mouche says sometimes she thinks they “belong in a Jane Austen film or a Bronte novel” (38). There is so much wrong with that statement: 1) why an Austen movie but a Bronte book? 2) If the girls knew either Austen or Bronte, the girls wouldn’t place them in the same category. I didn’t know what to do but laugh when the Wickham character Phoebe has been tutoring gets suspended, and he promises her at least to “catch up on Wuthering Heights” in his time away from school (176). The fact that he thinks that choice would please her shows how little any of them understand about Austen.

In chapter 3, Phoebe reminds us there is “also a subtle but competitive bond” between her and Mouche; it’s hardly subtle if she reminds us every few pages (27). In fact, lack of subtlety is arguably the greatest weakness of this text (vying for a close second are ties between awkward use of language and inconsistency).

The girls’ friend Peter Williamson (not sure who he is supposed to be) is a dancer the Princesses torment as much as they’re able. Teegan uses slang from Clueless—as if –in response to his hope that he might have a chance with the hot new guys (19). Teegan is also really offensive, boasting that Mark Knightly “totally wanted” her as soon as he saw her, and she “can’t rape the willing” (21). The vulgarity continues when supposedly one of their teachers, Miss Tartt (really? Is there any subtlety left?), is “obviously taken” with Mark, flutter[ing] her eye-lashes” and “appreciating his masculine energy” (29). I don’t know any teacher who does this. The rumors about Mark include that he “wants to major in pre-med at Yale or Harvard,” that “his uncle owns a huge castle in Scotland,” and that “his family harbors a very dark secret” (33). Peter overhears Mark talking with jet about his little sister Petra, who “stopped eating and became so introverted” after their parents died (34).

There are two younger cousins, Ella and Katie (Lydia and Kitty?) who have gone on a double date with Alex Miller and Tom Allen (37). Both girls are “super-giggly and boy-crazy,” but the boys spread lies about what sexual behavior the girls engaged in, and the “students in general believed the boy’s version of the story” (37-8). Apparently apostrophe usage is not making much headway in this school. The motives behind the Boy-Rating Diaries appear for a moment more admirable than I had thought: the big cousins want to teach people “a lesson in social etiquette” after their little cousins are maligned this way (38). At the same time, though, the girls spend their time “practis[ing] hairstyles and make-up” including on Mouche’s younger sister Wednesday, while she is asleep (53). Phoebe at least acknowledges that she may sound “shallow” by focusing so much on her outside, but she still does it (53).

In fact, there are many flaws in logic, both in terms of novel structure and character choices. Mouche’s brother Trey is not mentioned until page 42, and then it’s because he is “shout[ing]” at the girls so they don’t wake Wednesday (43). At least the Wickham character appears at an appropriate time; Joel Goodman shows up in chapter 5, “The Love Drug.” Phoebe tells us he is known as the “virgin-converter” and, according to gossip, is “a very bad person” (52). He’s smoking, and he appears just as Phoebe gets her feelings hurt, offering her services with “a vitriolic intonation” (aimed at Mark and Jet?) (148). His claim here is that Mark’s father fired Joel’s mother, which resulted in Joel’s family living in their “car for a few weeks” (150). Joel Goodman is apparently Croatian, which is as random as it sounds.

Anyone who has read Harriet the Spy can predict that this top-secret “boy-rating diary’ is going to be a fiasco (51). The idea of involving “other people” in their “game” should set off warning bells to Phoebe and Mouche, but it doesn’t (51). The bells should have rung deafeningly when they draw a pink line through Jet’s name and replace it with Mark’s, scrawling “wildly rich—major possibilities” (61). The girls are planning to have independent careers, so this foolish choice seemed inconsistent with their philosophy, and again, over-handed foreshadowing. Their Diary now has a list of every boy at the school with a quick summary of his potential. At least one of them has the sense to worry that “it could fall into the wrong hands” (87).

The links to Austen are sometimes strong, sometimes tenuous, and sometimes non-existent. That inconsistency is bothersome. Is it a nod to Elizabeth that Phoebe tells Mouche they should “rely on common sense and instinct” rather than on “the old games of cards and tea leaves” (which they use to foretell they will fall in love this year)? (55) In the middle of a discussion of pre-teen antics, the narration briefly and awkwardly tries to deliver a deep message: “As girls, we weren’t really taught to support each other” (72). Then, mid-way through, we learn randomly that they’re matchmakers? Now is time for Emma? Or Clueless, more like, since the girls take credit for fixing up their teachers, Mr. Frames and Miss Love. The girls obviously draw on movies more than books, as does our writer. Phoebe says she has “just finished skimming Emma”—skimming?! (75) But at least she read it; Mouche admits she “preferred the movie version” (75). There’s a nice little parallel to the embarrassing ball in P and P in which our narrator feels humiliated by a series of circumstances that lead to Mark glaring at her as if she is “pure trailer trash” (141). Mark even tells pushy Teegan (Caroline?) that he doesn’t “really dance” (143). Mark then says what we know he must: “To be honest, I just don’t find her friend that attractive” (145). The Darcy letter comes much earlier relative to the initial insult but is in no way linked to a failed proposal .

I do give the girls credit for never deliberately acting stupid to win the boys’ attention. When, for instance, Mouche announces that “men hate over-achievers,” Phoebe says they will “just have to re-educate the boys on that one” (57). Good girl.

Their understanding of adults, however, is flawed. One teacher, for instance, supposedly doesn’t like Phoebe because the teenager is “competition” (62). Again, what kind of teacher is this, or how warped is this girl’s understanding of how adults think? Their perception of age is also strange. Mark and Jet are one year older, but Phoebe thinks “from a distance they looked like teachers” (65). When I was 25 and in my own classroom, I still didn’t look like the teacher (which amused my students every time someone new came into the room and asked one of them where the teacher was).

Their sense of their purpose is flawed. At least Phoebe acknowledges that Mouche is “just as inexperienced as me at proper dating” (even if she meant as I), but then why does she think either of them should be writing “advice for older women”? (63, 62). Is the writer being deliberately inconsistent to illustrate character? The girls know that the guides they are reading are filled with at best “old-fashioned” and at worse terrible advice and that Mouche’s mom collects them “as a joke (64). It isn’t hard to predict that whoever finds them on the girls will not be in on the joke. How can they be so stupid? How can the writer NOT have that happen?

The text’s content and structure are often simply awkward. The text shifts awkwardly to third person for just a few paragraphs when Mark arrives at the beach for the double date—”He really did want to get to know Phoebe and Mouche better”—and then jumps right back to Phoebe’s point of view—”he noticed a girl who looked a lot like me” (109-110). The end of chapter 9 has the boys drive “off without even bothering to come inside,” but chapter 10 opens with the boys saying “a brisk ‘see ya’ to Mouche” and Phoebe (113-14). There is also misleading phrasing, such as when Phoebe says maybe Ethan praised “Mouche’s designs for the play” because Phoebe “caught him trying to kiss Mouche behind the stage curtains” when of course she means he says nice things because he likes Mouche, not because he got caught (159). Also, what happens after Mark discovers the diary? No follow-up, and he doesn’t seem upset. He obviously didn’t see it, but why is that scene even there? Several choices just don’t make sense. Mouche tells her drama teacher she is going to NYU or Yale (confident girl!), and he worries she might “waste” her talent there? (155) And why, when first Mark asks Phoebe to go to Paris, he says, “with me and my sister and Jet,” is then Petra not on the trip? (283, 295)
Besides inconsistent, this book is over the top annoyingly “moral.” The girls say “gross” about “actually doing it” with boys just as they drive “past a religious group protesting” with signs that read “Do you want to be a garden for Jesus or a vessel for sin?” (134-35) Really, whether you believe in the divinity of Jesus or not, he does not belong in a book of this nature. Similarly, our narrator realizes that she may “actually have feelings” for Trey, in addition to Mark and maybe Joel, and thus she is “becoming a hussy in [her] own mind” (136). How does that make her a hussy? What lesson is this supposed to teach young girls, who must be the target audience of a book like this? It’s later awkward and weird that, when Mark mouths the words to the play during a rehearsal, Phoebe sees him as “humble in this new light” but then Brooke comments “almost like Jesus when he was a carpenter” (227). What? Or is Brooke supposed to be reacting to Peter’s comment about a bad dress rehearsal meaning a great show? Is that less awkward? For girls with that annoying sense of morality, they have an odd reaction to Wednesday’s perceptions; I don’t think it’s funny when a small child comments that her older sister and sister’s boyfriend are “busy macking all over each other” (294).

Nor does the plan to team up with the princesses only to manipulate them seem moral. When the plan is finally revealed, it’s really bad: our girls are “sharing” the rules with the Princesses, but the rules are distorted, such as “Pre-men expect a casual hook-up. So why should we care? Act like a guy and care as little as they do” (187). This is mean. Our girls also become greedy, planning to “halve the gifts” the dates yield without telling the other girls the plan (192). Now they have a series of quasi-dates planned. Phoebe ends up on a date with Ethan, a “distant cousin” of Mark’s, who of course is Colonel Fitzwilliam, and who reveals the truth that Mark “convinced Jet to stay away from a particular girl who Jet was kind of into,” i.e. Mouche (197-98). Phoebe is smart enough not to “write about what happened at the movies in the shared Boy-Rating Guide” but not smart enough to realize how risky it is to write in “the original, hidden one” before she has a chance to explain to Mouche? (200) I was annoyed that Phoebe hardly gives Mark a chance to explain his behavior or to explain his behavior, but that, at least, is in keeping with how Elizabeth treats Darcy during his proposal (204). Phoebe foolishly describes Mark in the Boy Rating Diary as “a hyper-intense bore” whom “his poor sister” has “to put up with,” and any reader knows a Bridget Jones’ Diary situation is on its way (205). When finally the princesses are planning to publish the “first impressions” Phoebe recorded of Mark, now she feels “horror” (273). (How did she think this would turn out?) After the princesses publish the diary knowing Phoebe and Mouche tried to stop them, they all have a pillow fight. That’s it? What about trying to take it down?

Phoebe should spend a little less time on fake dates and a little more with a grammar book, or just any book: “it seems the streets aren’t safe from either Knightley’s” (troubling both because either requires a singular noun and because the plural of a name does not require an apostrophe. My mom’s third graders know this.). Brooke needs some help, too, which means this isn’t a character problem but a writer and editor problem, as shown by her entry that Tom’s mother wants him to marry “a descendant of the Vanderbilt’s” (211). More apostrophe trouble: “the woman works hard for Mr. Spark’s” (230). His name is Sparks; no possession intended here. Mark’s letter in which he apologizes for separating Jet and Mouche, at least, uses possessives correctly. Pronoun usage is incorrect: “I think me and Mouche . . . will adopt Petra as our next” best friend (272). Their spelling needs work, too, as in this comment: “it was like the fact that I had ignored him peaked his interest” (164). Why is Phoebe spelling favorite with a u? (251) She also uses “amongst.” Annoying quasi-Britishisms just seem pretentious. “Learnt” (231). Even its and it’s takes a hit: “really, its Ella’s responsibility to call her mom” (282)

About 200 pages in, I considered that maybe this story is supposed to be more Emma than P and P, thus Mouche’s distractingly handsome and good older brother, who Phoebe assumes is “out of [her] league” even more so than Mark (219). The scene with the driving reminded me of Clueless, and then I realized that actually several of the scenes in the novel remind me of movie scenes. Do you hear the Clueless girls saying something like this? “It was way harsh for him to have to live with such stuck up bores” (251). Mouche and Phoebe are bridesmaids at their teachers’ wedding—just like Cher and Dionne. They’re even wearing pink–just like in the movie. All of the annoying girls end up with boys they like (Teegan with Jack, Tory with Tom, Brooke with Peter, and Freya with Josh)—way too tidy an ending. Even Mouche’s toddler sister Wednesday sits under a table with a page boy, “Miss Tartt’s nephew, Timmy” (271). Phoebe is still matching up other people—now Petra with a “sophomore called Josh” (272). I was annoyed most because the implication is that the high school experience will be incomplete if she doesn’t secure a man right away. What kind of lesson is that? And why, when Phoebe actually likes Mark, does she still think of him as “just the pawn” in her “game of chess”? (254) Unless she is completely clueless—ah, and there it is. More scenes from Clueless: Phoebe imagines Mark’s aunt imagining Phoebe as “the next Mrs. Knightly”—and then (I can hear the “as IF!”) “Hello, I’m barely sixteen!” (277) Really surprised that she didn’t accidentally call Mark Josh, but maybe Mark is from Bridget Jones’ Darcy since the real Mr. Knightley character should be Mouche’s older brother.

But then, back to P and P we go, and it is a bumpy ride. When Phoebe is mesmerized by Petra’s piano-playing, she sees Mark watching her “listen to the music” and realizes that Mark has only “seemed too proud” but actually isn’t (224). This would still be at Netherfield since Jet, the Bingley character, is officially hosting, but it seemed like a Pemberley scene. Tory ditches her date, supposedly because “it’s not every Saturday that Petra joins us” but really to be closer to Mark (234). That’s the closest this text gets to a clear Caroline Bingley. But she’s worse than Caroline, mocking Petra behind her back for having suffered from bulimia. Caroline could be all of the Princesses. Teegan actually places a rock under Mouche’s saddle so the horse is disturbed, and then Teegan leaves when she realizes Mark knows (238). Another Caroline moment occurs when Freya offers to get the nurse for Phoebe’s ankle—and Phoebe hates when “girls pretend to be nice in front of boys they are trying to impress” (261). When Phoebe and Mouche finally go to the equivalent of Pemberley, the two girls are still thinking “this would be a great story for the Boy Rating Diary “—why, when they both like these boys, are they still thinking this way? (238) Then the narrator comments that Petra is skinny but doesn’t look “totally anorexic,” not distinguishing between bulimia and anorexia (243). Lady Catherine shows up in the form of Mark’s aunt, who pushily demands to know what the girls’ “fathers did for a living, what kind of car they drove and if [they] summered in the Hamptons” (245). Interestingly, there’s a husband, who I suspect may be a version of Mr. Collins. He gives the girls “an extra long glance from head to toe” (246). Anne Debourgh only appears late in the tale, after Darcy and Elizabeth get together, in the form of Kayleen, “the skinny, miserable looking daughter” of the Lady Catherine character’s business partner (277). (Forgive the absence of hyphens; this text is sorely lacking them.)

Even the Romeo and Juliet adaptation gets messed up. Why does this play have Rocci stab himself? Everyone knows he takes poison; Juliet uses the knife. Later, Phoebe claims the teacher “copied the exact text” when Juliet’s mom runs in on poisoned Juliet, crying “a jealous hood! A jealous hood!” (258-59). Uh, no. She never walks in on poisoned Juliet, and the “jealous hood” line belongs to Juliet’s father. Who does she think her readers are?!

When the narrator reveals who the intended addressee is, it is doubly horrifying: 1) The terrible twist at the end is completely unnecessary and enhances the story in no way. 2) This means the story was told from an adult perspective all along, so there is no forgiveness for sounding like a really dumb teen.

There is, at least, a valuable lesson in here about how much girls miss when they are “unsupportive of each other” (231). Oh, and don’t leave your diary in public places.

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Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. This review has kept me laughing for hours!!


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