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The Land Where Palm Trees Sway

Kaiulani: The People's Princess proves that sometimes two great flavors—in this case, the Victorian Era and Hawaii—really do taste great together.

The Land Where Palm Trees Sway

BOOK REPORT for Kaiulani: The People's Princess by Ellen Emerson White

Cover Story: NBC
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 0.5
Talky Talk: Dear Diary
Bonus Factors: Robert Louis Stevenson, Hawaii, Boarding School, Grand Tour
Relationship Status: Bosom Friends

Royal Diaries Drinking Game

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
• There's a trip to the marketplace
• Somebody makes a chess metaphor
• 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*

* A particularly excellent source of drinking this time around, as Kaiulani ages from thirteen to seventeen over the course of about 200 pages.
* Possibly the greatest showing yet: Elizabeth (series MVP) and Mary both score mentions, and Victoria even makes a tiny cameo.

Cover Story: NBC

I totally peacock this cover. Which is to say that I like all the peacocks Tim O'Brien has managed to cram into the picture enough to ignore the fact that Kaiulani's middle-distance stare freaks me out the longer I look at it. Let's all just look at how pretty Kaiulani was IRL instead.

The Deal:

We all know how this goes by now, right? Kaiulani is a princess. She is second in line to the Hawaiian throne, on her mother's side. (On her father's side, she's Scottish.) Being a Hawaiian princess means Kaiulani actually gets to live that "island paradise" life that every one of your Facebook friends who has ever taken a one-week vacation to Maui can't stop talking about. She goes for a swim in her own private cove every morning, rides her pony on the beach, and spends the rest of her free time reading in the garden. Also, every time she drops her pen, a servant has to pick it up for her. (This is presented as an inconvenience, but c'mon: the real inconvenience is all the dropped pens in my life I have been forced to pick up myself.) Unfortch, Kaiulani's various guardians have decided that she needs a Proper Education, and she gets shipped off to boarding school in rainy old England. Also unfortch, there's trouble a'brewing back home, where a meddlesome contingent of American officials want to get rid of the Hawaiian monarchy altogether. Separated from those she loves most, Kaiulani must bear up under her feelings of homesickness and powerlessness, and learn how to become the princess her people need.

BFF Charm: Yay!

I defs feel like Kaiulani and I could be friends IRL or in the Narnia-like fantasy world, umoored from time and place, where all twenty Royal Diarists plus me hang out together and eat ice cream. She's very invested in her family and royal duty, which in practicable terms means she's extraordinarily gracious to everyone she meets and writes an ungodly number of thank-you notes. She also loves to shop and discuss celebrity gossip. The only downside I see here is that being Kaiulani's friend might make me look bad in comparison, because the last time I sent a thank-you note was approximately never.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0.5

I was rooting for swoon with one of Kaiulani's older, adopted male cousins (what? they're adopted, and also this is 19th century monarchy, who cares), but was left sadly disappointed. Even so:

I have been enjoying the stream of dances and suppers we have been attending, and Annie tells me I am becoming quite an accomplished flirt! I was very pleased, but she said it was meant as a mild rebuke. I told her I would just have to practice more, until my flirting skills are beyond reproach.


Talky Talk: Dear Diary

As mentioned above, this book spans four years in Kaiulani's life. Like Isabel and AnastasiaKaiulani begins with frequent updates over a short period of time and then shifts to much more infrequent diary entries for the rest of the book. This can be weirdly frustrating; it feels a bit like slowly drifting apart from a friend you used to spend time with every single day. I understand the urge to cover a good long portion of the princess' life—and usually the period of time that's skimmed over is one in which nothing exciting and/or positive is happening—but it's not my favorite Royal Diaries structure type. (Or maybe I'm just sad because the earlier, more in-depth portion almost always corresponds to the Golden Age in the princess' life, and then everything goes downhill from there. Present subject very much included.)

Bonus Factor: Robert Louis Stevenson

Kaiulani forms a friendship with the Treasure Island author as he's visiting Hawaii, and it is simply a delight. Imagine if Meg Cabot started dropping by your house for tea every week and suggesting books for you to read and writing you personalized poems (in this scenario Meg Cabot is also a poet). (Probably nobody has ever made the exact Robert Louis Stevenson/Meg Cabot comparison before, but c'mon: he totally would've been a YA author today. At least, that's what the many YA retellings of Jekyll and Hyde have led me to believe.) 

Bonus Factor: Hawaii

I mean, obviously.

Bonus Factor: Boarding School

Great Harrowden Hall isn't always the happiest place for Kaiulani, but every once and a while she and her pals get up to the exact sort of hijinks that the "boarding school" bonus factor was created to honor.

Bonus Factor: Grand Tour

AKA the American road trip/European backpacking trip of Kaiulani's day. Her Grand Tour does not exactly go as planned—in the "Kaiulani's world is crashing to pieces around her" sense, not the "luggage got delayed and it rained at the beach" sense—but it's actually quite impressive to see her redefine the genre.

Casting Call:

Q'orianka Kilcher as Kaiulani

The most depressing part of writing these Royal Diaries reviews, otherwise a delightful experience, is the absurd number of hours I sink into trying to find a suitable actress for most of the non-European princesses. Dear Hollywood: get your shit together. After spending way too long fruitlessly trawling the Hawaii Five-0 imdb page for a native Hawaiian actress in the under-thirty age range, I ended up falling back on Q'orianka Kilcher. As I mentioned when I previously cast her as Weetamoo, Q'orianka actually played Kaiulani in a poorly-received biopic a few years ago. I still stand by my statement that she's better-suited to Weetamoo, but until Hollywood takes my advice and gets said shit in order, Q'orianka's just going to have to pull Royal Diaries double duty.

Relationship Status: Bosom Friends

As this book takes place in that fabled time when girls actually had to balance books on their heads to practice deportment, it seems fitting to speak of our relationship in Anne of Green Gables terms. I feel that this book is in a sense my kindred spirit, a friend to which I can confide my innermost soul! At the very least, this book confided its innermost soul to me, and made me quite sympathetic. We had fun together, and we were also very sad together. I'm not going to inflate this book's ego by calling it the Platonic Ideal of what a Royal Diaries book should be, but I will say it is a very fine example of the form.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Kaiulani: The People's Princess 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.