The Princess Diaries

Usually we think of Hollywood as being guilty of smutting things up.  You know, adding something racy or sexy or edgy where it is not needed.  Well let me tell you friends, in the case of the Princess Diaries, Hollywood did some serious whitewashing.  The film, starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews, carries a demure G rating.  The book is not the same, so anyone thinking that they can grab this for their ten year old who loved the film may find themselves caught off-guard when they’re asked to explain what a foot fetishist is.  Or spermicide.  Or a crackhead.  Or whether it’s true that someone undergoing facial surgery actually did have her lips reconstructed using the skin from her vagina. If you were uncomfortable reading that last bit, please think of how I felt writing it. I’m going to have to get over any bashfulness if I’m going to bring you accurate information about book content!

Also, for anyone that saw the movie first, some of the characters will seem a bit off.  Grandmere, played by the inimitable Julie Andrews, is quite different in the book.  Unless of course, Julie Andrews is the first person who pops into your mind when you’re reading about a cigarette smoking, Sidecar swilling old lady who wears see through negligees and tells her granddaughter she looks like a hooker.  Also when Princess Mia gets a blonde pixie cut, it’s pretty hard to make over your image of Anne Hathaway to suit.

Another small issue is that the book, first published in 2000 is showing signs of age.  There are pop culture references which will be meaningless to today’s teens, ranging from mentions of the TV show Party of Five, to stolen references from Clueless like saying a guy is a  “Baldwin” to indicate he’s hot.  Even if you tried to explain that one, kids would laugh you out of the room.  Have you seen Alec Baldwin lately?

As this is the first in a long series (which I have not read), the ending is pretty unsatisfactory, it just seems to trail off.  I expect this is to induce me to read the next book, but I do wish it had felt more finished.  Some poking around into the plot descriptions of the future books reveals that Cabot is getting the most out of this series by having things move at a snail’s pace.

This book may appeal to teens, Mia’s angst is something many will associate with.   There are many high school type references, particularly in Algebra that may confuse or bore younger readers if the rest of the content were not an issue.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Mia spends much time discussing her breasts (or lack thereof).  She measures them, etc.  Other people’s chest size is also discussed.  Mia’s mother is dating her Algebra teacher and Mia often wonders if he’s sticking his tongue in her mother’s mouth, and at one point walks in on him in his boxers after he’s spent the night with her mother.  Lilly’s brother walks around shirtless and Lilly says he’s “sexually harassing” Mia.  In a brief discussion of the school play, My Fair Lady, Mia mentions someone is playing a Cockney hooker (which is a part I don’t remember being in My Fair Lady).  Although there is some discussion of sex, virginity and contraception (most contained in about two pages), the most that happens to Mia is a slow dance and a kiss, which involved smashing of lips together, nothing more.  There is also a mention of getting your period.  Someone is called libidinous (which frankly, anyone who knows what that means is probably old enough to be reading the book).  Mia mentions being able to see her neighbor who used to be a Ronald but is now a Ronette.  Mia is concerned that Grandmere would be displeased during the Gay Pride parade because she is stuffy.  Mia was born out of wedlock.
Profanity – “ass,” “My God,” “Jesus,” “damn,” “suck,” “wanker”
Death, Violence and Gore – The bodyguards carry guns, and there is a discussion of Uzis between two bodyguards.  At one point Princess Mia’s best friend Lilly wants to taunt her stalker into shooting at them.  There is one threat of spanking.  Joan of Arc’s burning at the stake is mentioned.  Mia says her mother says to “ask your father” if she has tough questions like “why do people kill their babies.”
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Grandmother has a decided preference for Sidecars. Father is often seen downing a scotch and soda.  Although neither Mia or her best friend Lilly smoke, other teens are smoking in front of the school (surprising considering smoke-free school zone laws).  There are several references to teenage drinking including people discussing a party where many people drank to excess including a girl who passed out in the Jacuzzi and vomited.  Before the big dance, teens are drinking at Tavern on the Green using fake IDs.  Mia admits that she has a glass of wine with dinner when in France visiting her father’s house.  There is a mention of the “druggie” table in the cafeteria and several times the term “crackhead” is used.  Crackhead is also (rather inexplicably) the name of a Webzine Lilly’s brother writes for.
Frightening or Intense Things – Mia’s father is sterile from battling testicular cancer and it is revealed that he lost a testicle.  This is handled in a very light way and her father is definitely fine now.

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