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She’s the Man(arch)

She's the Man? Man-arch? Monarch? Get it? Never mind.

She’s the Man(arch)

BOOK REPORT for Kristina: The Girl King by Carolyn Meyer

Cover Story: Poor Likeness
BFF Charm: Nay
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Talky Talk: Dear Diary
Bonus Factors: Swedish History, Gender Nonconformity
Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: Schoolmates

Royal Diaries Drinking Game: Revised Again, Because I Keep Thinking of New Rules

Take a sip when:
• There is talk of a betrothal
• The protagonist references the diary concept (i.e. apologizes for not writing often enough, has to find a hiding place for the diary, explains why she's writing in it to begin with, etc.)
• The protagonist wonders what it would be like to be a "normal girl"
• There’s a ball
• Trip to the marketplace
• Somebody becomes deathly ill (pour one out if they die!)
• Somebody is poisoned or strangled or in some other way Ye Olde Murdered
• You wish you were a princess

Take two sips when:
• The protagonist becomes officially betrothed
• The protagonist suspects someone of reading her diary
• It's the protagonist's birthday
• Secret nighttime adventure!
• Obvious historical foreshadowing*
• The protagonist becomes deathly ill
• You're really glad you're NOT a princess

Take a shot when:
• The protagonist gets hitched
• Another Royal Diarist is mentioned*

* Just like fellow seventeenth-century royal Jahanara, Kristina is a huge Liz fangirl.

Cover Story: Poor Likeness

The girls on Tim O'Brien's covers always look refreshingly like real, unique, individual people, not like airbrushed 20-something models or creepy mannequins. Unfortunately, they never look like the real-life historical characters they're actually supposed to represent. This is what Kristina looked like as an adolescent, and that's the face (thanks to the pictures in the back of the book) I pictured while reading.

The Deal:

Like most anticipated royal babies, Kristina was supposed to be a boy. Unlike most kings, Kristina's dad decided to lean in to the disappointment, which is how Kristina winds up becoming King of Sweden at five years old. Instead of being taught embroidery and curtsying, Kristina learns to ride and hunt and read philosophy and navigate politics—all of which is just to her liking. Unfortch, Kristina's regents still expect her to get married and someday produce an heir to the throne, no matter how much she protests that she is Not About That Life.

BFF Charm: Nay

Kristina suffers from Cool Girl Feminism. She's of the opinion that most girls are shallow and silly and awful, and she far prefers hanging out with her male cousins doing manly things. I mean, good for you, but maybe don't hate on girls who actually like embroidery and curtsying? And while I'm all for girls being confident, Kristina loves to point out how much smarter and all-around-better she is than [insert every character here]. I liked her best during her moments of vulnerability—but not enough to ask her to be my BFF.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

I did a certain amount of swooning for Kristina's potential future suitor Karl, but she sure didn't. On the other hand, the friendship that develops between Kristina and Ebba Sparre—the "exception" to Kristina's girls-are-terrible attitude—is actually a little swoony, especially when Kristina goes on and on about how beautiful Ebba is.

Talky Talk: Dear Diary

Even though this is the second Carolyn Meyer protagonist I've refused to consider as a BFF, I do enjoy Meyer's writing style. She's one of only four Royal Diaries authors to contribute more than one book to the series, and she definitely has the format and tone down pat. Kristina does run into the same problem as Mary, Queen of Scots in that I don't quite believe that an eleven-year-old would be so eloquent, but you just gotta chalk it up to a royal education and move on.

Bonus Factor: Swedish History

Obviously this book takes place long after the Viking Age had come to an end, but that's my point! I don't know anything about Swedish history besides the Vikings (and even that knowledge is more cribbed from Bugs Bunny cartoons than actual history). In the 17th century, Sweden was trying very hard to be a "modern" European monarchy on the same level as England or France or Spain, and it's cool to see the ways in which that plays out through a young queen's king's eyes.

Bonus Factor: Gender Nonconformity

Despite my problems with this book's take on "girl power," I think it does a lot right in the realm of gender nonconformity. Since there's never anything more than oblique subtext of LGBTQ themes, I can't quite award that particular bonus factor—but I do think that Kristina's frequent cross-dressing and her extremely effusive feelings for Ebba are important gestures in the right direction, especially for a book aimed at this particular age group.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting

Kristina's mom is The Worst, as in lost-custody-of-her-child-for-being-the-worst Worst. She's both emotionally dependent on Kristina and emotionally abusive of her, suffocating her daughter with love one moment and viciously tearing her down the next. Luckily, Kristina mostly lives with her Aunt Katarina, who is lovely and loving in all the ways that a mother should be.

Casting Call:

Saoirse Ronan as Kristina

Relationship Status: Schoolmates

I learned from this book, and if books ever listened when I try to talk to them I feel like it would've learned from me too. We're not in love or anything, and frankly I don't think we'll go out of our way to hang out outside of school, but I appreciated our time together nonetheless.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Kristina: The Girl King has been available for years, y'all. So get on that.

Maria Greer's photo About the Author: Maria is originally from Montana but goes to school in the Bay Area, where she totally fails to take advantage of the tech industry. Instead, she is majoring in history and creative writing, with which she plans to do...something. Currently her hope is that someone will come along and offer to pay her to read YA novels and eat cupcakes. Until that day, Maria spends most of her time studying and petitioning the university to let her keep a cat in her dorm.