We Recommend Again: Princess Diaries Edition

Yet another in our We Recommend series, where you guys write in asking for what would be the right book for the small reader in your life. Go ahead, try us!

So here's a We Recommend that is odd in a number of ways: 1) the person didn't write in, just happens to be a coworker looking for a recommendation; 2) used a book I've never actually read as a point of reference (though this isn't odd, indeed it's the second time it's happened in the very near past; and 3) the coworker is male, and maybe I'm wrong but I think it just may be the only male voice ever to be heard on this blog (not counting authors).

But I feel that I must post about it, because he said, "Oh, you haven't read The Princess Diaries? Oh forget it then, you won't be any use." To which I responded: hmph.

So here is his conundrum: His daughter is a very very smart, 13-year-old girl, who reads a lot. However. She's not into…harshness. Her favorite books? The Princess Diaries. Sweet. Girly. Nothing too terrible happens. Real-ish. I mean, not super real, but not fantasy or magic either. But essentially: nobody dies. Or at least, not until they're really old.

I find it endearing that a child can make it to 13 and still feel this way. Life is very harsh, and there's something to be said for trying to create a space for yourself where that harshness doesn't intrude. So many kids have watched 100,000 people die in movies by the time they're 8, it's nice to think that some of them actively avoid having to see that.

But this doesn't address the real question, which is, what should this kid read? What will be gentle and at the same time grown-up enough that if it's left around the apartment, she will pick it up and be engaged? (And yes, left around the apartment. She is 13, after all. A book her father directly recommends to her will never be read. I gather that's what happened to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, my first suggestion.)

What's so tough about it is that all the great books that make perfect sense—Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Ballet Shoes—have been so thoroughly co-opted by little girls that they may no longer be viable options for the big.

So here's what I came up with. Bear in mind, this comes with HUGE caveats. For instance, the description doesn't seem to match what I remember from 1978. Also, it says Cassie is a "swinger," which seems…off. As far as I remember, it was a very tame book about a girl struggling to be who she was, even though she was super pretty and a model and had a perfect audio memory. But as far as I remember, that book was called Me, Cassie, so here you go:

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But truly, I know you guys can do better. So give: what's a sensitive teenage girl to do?

18 thoughts on “We Recommend Again: Princess Diaries Edition

  1. I Capture the Castle springs to mind. And I remember a book I loved around then called Don’t Knock the Corners Off about a young girl finding her artistic inner self…but it’s out of print.
    Tom’s Midnight Garden is a lovely book but she might think it too young. Or too British.
    Perhaps Madeleine L’Engle’s Camilla or And Both Were Young. Or L’Engle’s Austin family books.
    And I fell in love with Margaret Kennedy’s The Constant Nymph at about that age. Tragic ending but so romantic.

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  2. I am coming back to my perennial recommendation, Madeleine L’Engle – And Both Were Young as well as the Austin series, as the previous comment suggested. Also, the Wrinkle In Time series might work. Really, any of Austin, the girl in question can try them and see what works for her. Though I will say I’ve never been able to appreciate Camilla very much.
    Further, I think don’t be shy about Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, etc. Those two series, especially, grow with the reader, so even if the first books are too young for her, the others wouldn’t be. And I’m all for encouraging people (including adults) to read “below” their grade level, because you get a lot of nuance if the books are good.
    This is going to be a really dorky recommendation, but how about Sue Barton? They might be a little hard to find, but I have a feeling they would fit the bill here. She starts as a nursing student and there are about seven books, and by the end she’s a (still beautiful and kicky) matron with kids and a husband and hijinks ensuing. The first book is set in the 1930s or so, and I loved them as an old tween/young teenager (not that tweens existed back then). Not only that, I reread them in a fit of nostalgia not long ago and I *still* loved them. They are absolutely dated and somewhat saccharine (not as much as Nancy Drew though, if you ask me), but also exciting and well written and thoughtful.

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  3. Actually, his daughter’s taste sounds like mine. Totally not into the harshness. If she’s as advanced a reader as he indicates, she might like my favorite books – anything by P.G.Wodehouse.
    Yes, I know – Edwardian society humor. Yes, a lot of the references would go right over her head, but she might love the gentle humor. (When I was 13-14, I was reading about vaudville and trying to teach myself Yiddish, so maybe this isn’t too beyond the pale.)
    My very favorite is Leave It To Psmith.
    It would either leave her completely cold or ignite a whole new obsession.
    For what it’s worth.

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  4. At that age, I really liked “Dear Enemy” by Jean Webster, or the first one is called “Daddy Long-Legs”, but I liked the second one better. It’s in diary/letter format, written by a woman who has suddenly become the superintendent of an orphan asylum. There’s a little love plot, she is engaged to the wrong man and eventually discovers this. Then there’s also the story of all her reforms to the orphanage and many funny stories mixed in there. Now, there is a bit of underlying darkness there, like the way she discusses how some of the kids have terrible genetics, or come from alcoholic backgrounds, and they discuss the whole nature/nurture debate a lot. But really to me at that age, it was just a nice story about love and orphans.
    Also, at about that age, I got into reading fantasy things in order to escape from all the depressing contemporary fiction I saw around me. When I was 13 or so, I read ‘The Belgariad’ series by David Eddings and thought it was just the best thing in the whole world. Very not dark. If she doesn’t mind the idea of fantasy, that might be a good one to try.

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  5. Emily of New Moon and the books in that series are also good. Though, it starts with her beloved father dying, so maybe that’s not great. If she is super smart, maybe Pride and Prejudice?

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  6. She sounds like someone that is a little old-fashioned, like me. I collect teen romance novels, mainly from the 50’s & 60’s, and she might enjoy discovering some overlooked gems from Beverly Cleary like Fifteen, The Luckiest Girl, and Sister of the Bride. They are sweet and funny. Another author she may enjoy is Lenora Mattingly Weber, author of the Beany Malone and Katie Rose series. For a more current author, she may want to try Louise Rennison’s Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series. They sound racy, but I’ve read the first 7 books, and all that happens is kissing.
    I do have some of the Sue Barton series, but haven’t read them yet. Maybe on Maria’s recommendation I’ll take the plunge.

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  7. At that age, I would have adored The Princess Diaries too. (I love them now and I am *way* too old for them.) I highly recommend I Was a 98 Pound Duckling by Jean Van Leeuwen as part of that genre. A little youngish for her but also much loved by me at that time: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Another high school set book series I liked was We Interrupt this Semester for an Important Bulletin and Dear Lovey Hart, I am Desperate by Ellen Conford. They aren’t conflict free (but neither are the Princess Diaries) but they are nothing like Gossip Girl either.
    And I have to echo the Austins too. Loved them.
    And a quick Amazon search shows he can buy most of these books starting at a penny and leave them lying around the house.

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  8. What about the vaguely more YA-ish titles by Wendy Mass? Or Jean Ferris? Or Sharon Creech? Or Eva Ibbotson?

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  9. I think Little Women and Anne of Green Gables are totally appropriate…even if she read them at a younger age, I think there are nuances that you pick up on more the older you get, and their storylines are definitely of re-read quality. And maybe branch into some other Alcott books…Little Men, 8 Cousins. I wonder how she feels about mystery; not anything too scary, but more along the Nancy Drew vein. There is a series that I read because they belonged to my mom, a nurse, about a young nurse, Cherry Ames, who solved mysteries. They are kind of old fashioned, but still good reads. I also second the suggestion of some Austen if she’s a smart young lady. Or maybe some historical fiction? There was an author I really liked in that genre when I was in middle school…I don’t remember for sure, but it might have been Ann Rinaldi. Oh! How about the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series? Nothing too harsh that I can remember in those.

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  10. Really? I think Traveling Pants is all about the harsh. Divorce! Leukemia! Mental illness! Ack. I like them, but in a cathartic sort of way.
    How about Betty Cavanna and similar retro fiction? Have you seen this site? It has a bunch of entertaining reading. The other parts of the site are good too. http://carlytown.com/maltshop/home.html

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  11. I second Pride and Prejudice and generally not discouraging her from “adult” books when letting her loose in the library or book store.

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  12. This is in a somewhat different vein, but at that age, I could not read enough Sherlock Holmes. Seriously, I tracked down ANYTHING remotely related (e.g., the “pastiches”).
    And now my own question, people seem to be identifying Little Women as something for young girls. How young? I recall reading them in late elementary, but maybe my 8 y.o. would be ready? I’d hate for its wonderfulness to be lost on her by giving it to her too early, but we do happen to have a copy lying about…
    For background, she’s just torn through the Sisters Grimm books and, after having listened to her father read A Wrinkle in Time, is nearly finished reading the second volume of that series on her own.

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  13. How about Island Of The Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell? Is that too harsh? And I totally agree that A of G et al are always good! I still read them every so often!

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  14. With all the great suggestions above, you don’t need more, but I’m adding some anyway, because it is such a great question.
    I read Hitchhiker’s Guide at about this age–it opened up the world to me. Totally prepared me for Wodehouse and Monty Python. Then I found Pratchett a year or two later. I can’t recommend his stuff enough–it’s funny, but thoughtful, too. In both of these authors’ books there are some narratively tense events, but not sex-and-violence, which I think is pretty true of most of the British comic/satirical novel tradition. If I was buying an Adams or Pratchett book for this young lady, I’d start with the earlier novels of either–the first HHGG or Sourcery or Lords & Ladies, or I’d start with Pratchett’s YAD series, The Wee Free Men.
    Also: Daniel Pinkwater–Alan Mendelsohn the Boy from Mars. Or Ellen Raskin’s Westing Game. I think all these writers are sometimes assumed to have more suspense than something like the Princess Diaries, but I find that the “light” teen romances actually have a good deal of tension in them, mostly centered around how the characters will straighten out whatever misunderstanding drives the novel’s plot.
    And speaking of romance and comic misunderstandings, there’s always Shakespeare’s comedies. I started with Lamb’s Tales, and then the plays themselves were a little easier to wade through those first times.
    Best of luck.

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  15. Ohh, Ohh I know this one! Understood Betsy may be too young but he could try it.
    The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
    Cheaper by the Dozen
    Princess Academy and sequels
    Our Own May Amelia
    Boston Jane
    Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lionness series (starts with Alanna)
    The Young Unicorns (Madeline L’Engle)
    Linnets and Valerians
    The City of Bells and sequels(Elizabeth Goudge)
    Herb of Grace (used to be called Pilgrim’s Inn) also by Goudge
    Tom’s Midnight Garden
    Beasts of Clawstone Castle
    The Penderwicks
    Absolute Zero and sequels(Cresswell)
    The Exiles and sequels
    Saffy’s Angel and sequels
    Family Sabbatical (Ryrie Brink)

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  16. Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley–princessy but with teeth, and the fantasy is very ordinary and sweet and not sword and sorcery. She might also enjoy selected Agatha Christies. Joan Aiken, although best known for the Wolves Chronicles, also wrote a slew of other books including some regency romances and Jane Austen spinoffs. In a more realist vein, she might like Dicey’s Song and Izzy Willy Nilly by Cynthia Voight–both have happy endings and the harsher elements are beautifully handled. She is also getting to the right age for Sarah Dessen’s books.

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  17. I second The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate —— very well done.
    Also: The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs (charming, folksy….though maybe a little young?). And Eireann Corrigan’s extremely well-done Ordinary Ghosts.

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