Monday, April 28, 2014

THE SECRET LIFE OF PRINCE CHARMING, by Deb Caletti

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Caletti, Deb. (2009). The Secret Life of Prince Charming. New York: Simon Pulse.


When Quinn gets dumped unexpectedly, she begins to think maybe the women in her family have it right and there are no good men.  Her dramatic, charismatic father is back in her life, but as Quinn realizes that he’s taken something important for all the women in his life, she, her little sister and an older half-sister she’s never gotten to know decide to go on a quest and return all these belongings to their father’s former women.  Along for the journey is her half-sister’s boyfriend’s brother, Jake, who looks like a bad boy, but might prove that there are some boys Quinn can finally trust after all.

Some books are fun and sweet like cotton candy. Others are more like serious steak dinners that require lots of careful chewing.  The Secret Life of Prince Charming is delightfully somewhere in between, with rich, vivid language that made me pause and admire the writing along with a sweet story that mostly left me feeling good in the end.  It’s an honest portrayal of a father-daughter relationship, with the daughter being a people-pleaser co-dependent breaking free of her former role of peace-keeper.  IT reminds me some of her protagonist from The Six Rules of Maybe.  I always appreciate books that show such a realistic look at how hard it is to not try to apologize for things that you can’t even control.  Her father is clearly shown to be an immature man.  At one point, she tells him she knows he’s lying and replies, “I always tell the truth to the best of my ability,” (Caletti 67) which is a perfect summation of these kinds of people in life.  They just can’t help themselves from story-telling to make life more interesting and dramatic.  It’s good for people to watch this sort of person in action, so that perhaps when they meet someone like this in real life, they can take the lessons Quinn learns the hard way in this story and apply it to their own life.

Still, this is not a cautionary tale or a moral lesson.  It’s a beautifully written story about family, about love, about the messiness of life.  I usually read through a book very quickly, but I found myself reading this one in smaller chunks, taking my time, savoring one chapter at a time. Her writing is a joy to read.
The main story line is sprinkled with various women sharing stories about themselves and their romantic experiences in the past.  The different voices in each of these stories really stands out from Quinn’s voice and contributes to the whole question of “What is love?” that is asked throughout the book. The only problem is that there were a lot of women quoted and I couldn’t always remember whose name was which, so sometimes, I could not tell who that woman was and why she was being quoted.  However, I found that to be only a minor distraction.  The content of what the women shared was worthwhile even when I couldn't place the speaker.

I know a lot of people call this YA and that’s apparently how it’s marketed.  I would call this New Adult.  It starts off much more slowly than many YA novels, the main protagonist is already 18 and there are many more adult women focused on than you’d normally see in a YA book.  The "prince charming" with the secret life who she's trying to understand is really her father. There is a romance for Quinn, too, but it truly is not the focus of the book, despite how the cover makes things appear. I’m not saying a teen wouldn’t like it, but I suspect that the ones who will enjoy it will be older teens, or those wise beyond their years.  I love YA, but I also very much enjoyed this book.

And when he sees you and he does not reach out, does not reach out but purposefully turns away, when he decides you are not good enough to love, when he does not see your goodness, your beauty, you will have a choice. To be devastated, or to let the truth in, finally, finally, all the way, all the way, all the way, until it fills you with its own strength, with its own knowledge--that love is light and not darkness, that love that is not good is not worthy of you, that love can only truly be given by those who are able, those with hearts of quality and with careful hands. (Caletti 320)

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