Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Princess Protection Program

London, Alex. The Princess Protection Program
February 13, 2024 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rosamund wakes up to find a strange prince trying to kiss her, but manages to push him away and hide in a bathroom. The next thing she knows, she is outside the Orphan's Home Educational Academy. From fellow students Sirena and Rana, she learns that she and all of the others in the HEA are princesses (and one prince, Charlie) who escaped from their fairy tales and are now trying to figure out "reality" with the help of Verna, who set up the school. Students take classes in using cell phones, dressing themselves without ball gowns, and other modern topics from professors who are named with shout outs to other middle grade authors (Chainani, Calonita, Gidwitz). There is a threat from Uponatimes, monsters that can make the princesses disappear, and they encounter one when they take an illicit trip to a pizza parlor near the Enchanted Woods Amusement Park. Sirena is attacked, and the girls are in trouble for going off campus. While the purpose of the school seems to be to ready the princesses for entry into the world, the days have an alarming repetitive quality, and Rosamund wonders if the cleaning they have to do is somehow tied into this Groundhog's Day feel. When secrets start to emerge (as well as "chaotic teenaged greaseballs", aka unicorns!), will Rosamund and her new friends be able to figure out how to create their own Doors of Opportunity and be the authors of their own stories?
Strengths: This was a fun twist on traditional Brothers Grimm meet Disney fairy tales, and was an interesting look at how sometimes young people are not able to control the way their lives unfold. Rosamund's reaction to the sweaty prince trying to kiss her is a direct antithesis to the princess in Flinn's A Kiss in Time (2009), where Sleeping Beauty is woken up by a modern tourist and follows him back to Florida! There's just enough amazement at the modern world mixed with teenagers trying to strike out on their own. The pizza parlor and its important part in the story was probably my favorite, and I should have paid closer attention to the names! It's strongly hinted that Charlie (Prince Charming) escaped the Cinderella story because he is gay, but this is never said directly. This is a fun romp, and a bit of a departure from London's usual action packed books like Pentagon Escape, Battle Dragons, and Dog Tags or his zany Accidental Adventures
Weaknesses: This was packed with allegory, so I felt like I was missing a lot because I didn't stop to unpack everything that made me think "Wait a minute...". This could be enjoyed without the underlying messages, which is good, because middle grade readers might not quite get everything.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked Anne Ursu's The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy (2021) or The Lost Girl (2019) or The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (2012) by Christopher Healy. 

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