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They Used to Laugh and Call Her Names

Brian and his eight-year-old daughter Sophie review Danai Kadzere's new book about how it takes more than a pretty face to win The Princess Games.

They Used to Laugh and Call Her Names

BOOK REPORT for The Princess Games by Danai Kadzere

Cover Story: Barbie's Dream Princess Palace With Unicorns and Ponies!
Drinking Buddy: Pinkies Out!
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Court Intrigue
Talky Talk: The Princess Diaries, Jr.
Bonus Factors: Winner Take All Contest
Bromance Status: I Know You, Don't I?

Cover Story: Barbie's Dream Princess Palace With Unicorns and Ponies!

Brian: Since the entire point of this story is that looks are secondary to intelligence and personality, the princess crown on the pink pillow seems a little out of place. Still, this is a small press book, and it might have been too expensive to commission a picutre of Emma karate chopping a dragon.

Sophie: I totally agree. l can see where the cover relates to Laralyn, but if the two got to design the cover of the book l guarantee it would be something involving pink glittery dragons.

The Deal:

So King Winkle and Queen Periwinkle of the fair Kingdom of Hoggenbottom (yes, really) have no heir, which is a problem, since they need a daughter to marry off to Prince Linus of the neighboring kingdom. So a contest is called. A fair maiden from each village, escorted by their fairy godmother, will compete in the Princess Games, with the winner becoming the new princess.

Laralyn is a shoe-in to win. She has been trained from birth in manners of etiquette, beauty, and protocol. And she's escorted by snooty Fairy Faye, who knows how to charm a royal, and maybe backstab the other contestants.

Unfortunately, she's not the only competitor from her town. The bumbling Fairy Louise showed up at the wrong place and kind of grabbed Emma, a local farm girl. Laralyn shouldn't worry, though. Emma is plain, uncouth, and is only in this for the free food. Of course, Emma is also intelligent, funny, and kind. But what does that count for in a beauty contest?

The chapters are narrated by Laralyn, Emma, and Karl, the king's harried advisor. Let the games begin!

Drinking Buddy: Pinkies Out!

Brian: A nice story in three voices. Lauralyn is overwhelmed by the contest, her pushy fairy, and her scheming mother. She's never had a real friend and she vacillates between liking Emma and fearing her. Emma sees the whole contest as a farce, but when she ends up meeting prince Linus while horseback riding, she has to admit that there are worse fates than ending up with a guy like him. And the feelings seem to be mutual. Not that she has a chance to win. And I liked Karl, who's constantly trying to reign in the immature king, the bossy fairies and the clueless contestants. Hell, we've all been there.

Sophie: Emma is the one who's just there for the food, but after a while she is frightened of the prospect  of being sent home. l can relate to Emma personally. You go in a thing thinking this is so stupid, but after spending a while there she thinks the prospect of leaving is double piles of buckbeak doo.

Lauralyn is a character l can't relate to but l know many people who can. A snooty 'l'm so better than you,' she makes something to give to the teacher like a picture of a rainbow kitten (colored with crayons stole out of your desk of course), but may have a little something more.

Karl is always scampering and trying to do everything at once, but can still can be whiny at times.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Court Intrigue

Brian: So the royal family is being stalked by the world's most inept assassin, who always seems to just miss with the collapsing chairs and poisoned jelly. Eventually, the remaining contestants are tasked with tracking down the would-be killer. Who can be trusted?

Meanwhile, things take an unexpectedly dark turn when the potential princesses are charged with 'rescuing' Prince Linus from a dragon. And four of the contestants, along with their fairy godmothers, are reduced to fancy shoes filled with ashes.

Karl: Oh, is someone barbecuing? What is that smell, sausage? No, something leaner...uh oh.

And that's the last the other girls are mentioned! Kind of a grim (though hilarious) turn of events.

Sophie: Dad explained most of it but what was the assassin's motive? l think all in all it had pretty good excitement.

Talky Talk: The Princess Diaries, Jr.

Brian: Yeah, we've seen this all before. In The Princess Diaries, The School for Good and Evil, and a dozen other books and movies. The diamond in the rough, the snooty girl who needs a friend, the prince who can see beyond shallow physical beauty. And there were some things that could have been better explained, like the nature of magic in this world, or the assassin's motivation.

Still, this book had heart, and it's middle grade, so it can get away with the cutesiness. The characters were plenty likeable, and there were a few places that made me laugh.

Sophie: Totally agree, but l think it could have been a bit more explanatory. It definitely started to pick up later in the book. All in all, a very good book that rates about an 8.

Bonus Factor: Winner Take All Contest

This book was so short that there were only two or three actual contests, but it did have a nice cutthroat vibe about it. I'd like to see what Emma, Laralyn and the gang would do if they came across a real life challenge.

Bromance Status: I Know You, Don't I?

Yeah, I've read you, haven't I? Can't quite remember your title, but I think I enjoyed you. Have a good one.

Full disclosure: the publisher sent me an e-copy, but I couldn't figure out how to open it so I bought my own copy on Amazon for three dollars. That was the only money that changed hands. The Princess Games is available now.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.