Pearl is a servant on an island that holds summer classes teaching princes "the charming arts". Recently, the rule that princes can only marry those of royal blood has been revoked, so Pearl would like very much to marry a prince and leave her island in order to make her mark on the world. Her true love, Mackree, has recently dumped her because of her desire to move beyond being a servant.
Pearl impresses several of the princes favorably, as do several of her friends. They are all preparing for the big Summersleave ball while the princes take classes in dance, courting, and manners. Pearl's father is a cook whose heart is failing. Her mother died a few years ago, but left gifts for each of her birthdays. When her father feels he doesn't have much time left, he gives her the last three gifts, which reveal a secret about Pearl's identity that changes her life. Does she settle for one of the princes, or try to win back Mackree, her true love?
SPOILER ALERT: The girls will like this for the ball gowns, the flirtation, the friends, and the fact that Pearl turns out to be a real princess after all, and ends up with Mackree. She gets to have her cake AND eat it(and they do seem to eat a lot in this book)-- she gets to leave the island with Mackree to take her place on the throne.
Why I didn't like it: I hate weddings, and the emphasis on the necessity to marry really, really irked me. This would also explain why I wasn't a big fan of Paratore's The Wedding Planner's Daughter! This is touted as a "girl power" book, but even when Pearl finds out she is a princess, she feels a need to take a man with her. Hard core fans of fantasy will find inconsistencies in the quasi-medeival setting of ball gowns, servants working in a castle, and princes arriving on ships when things like hospitals with desks and nurses in white caps, peanut butter, chocolate, and other modern things jarringly crop up.
I read this after Picky Reader informed me that there are 19 boys in the accelerated math and science block, and 6 girls. Luckily, she is very pleased with herself to be one of the 6 girls. This made me want to slap Pearl a bit. How we feel about books can be so very influenced by what is going on with our lives!