A couple of months ago, a friend sent a short list of recommended YA reads. On this list was A Brief History of Montmaray, with the note: “I don’t normally go in for princesses but this one is pretty awesome.” I’ve never been interested in princesses, either, so the note piqued my curiosity. What would make a princess interesting to me?
A Brief History of Montmaray, apparently!
Sophia, whose journal entries comprise this brief history, is one of several princesses of the island of Montmaray. The eldest princess, Sophia’s cousin Veronica, is daughter of the current–not-quite-sane–King John. Sophia’s sister is the youngest princess (who’d rather be a prince, thank you very much); her brother, the prince, is away studying in England. As the number of villagers grows increasingly sparse, the girls must manage the castle virtually on their own.
Even before Nazi-related trials and tribulations enter the story, it’s a captivating tale of survival, humor and grace. The girls matter-of-factly face a unique set of circumstances that, to them, are simply ordinary life. Each girl is so vibrantly portrayed and so realistic, I felt increasingly as I turned the pages they were good friends I’ve known my whole life. Part of this might be a testament to how deeply I relate to their circumstances, given that I was one of four siblings who survived childhood despite poverty, isolation and a parental figure whose mental illness made her more of a parental figurehead than a parent in some regards. Mostly, though, I think it’s Michelle Cooper’s compassionate, loving, poignant depiction of each of the girls and all the other characters of this stunning novel.
When everything goes awry even by the girls’ standards, the book becomes impossible to set down. (It was merely “extremely difficult” before.) I plowed through the last 100 pages this morning before my son awakened. I rejoiced at the book’s beautiful conclusion, which so comforts me given how it mirrors my own life questions at the moment, and also at the fact there are more Montmaray books waiting to be devoured by me. If only I’d checked them out preemptively!
If you don’t enjoy princess tales, you might nevertheless enjoy this princess tale, and the fiercely independent, precocious princesses who make it such a beautiful, delightful tale of survival.
Infatuation does not equal love.
Seems pretty obvious put in those terms, doesn’t it? Well, duh. Who ever said otherwise? Let’s consider this, shall we?
In sixth grade, I thought I would never love anyone as much as I loved Edward Scissorhands. True story. Some part of me understood he wasn’t an actual person, but the other 99.999% believed she could make him exist out of sheer force of will. Scissor hands and all, he was perfect exactly the way he was. He had no flaws. None!
Two decades later, I’m in a long-term relationship with a man I love very much. He’s got many wonderful traits, but he’s also got a handful that make me thankful my head can’t actually explode from frustration alone. (I, on the other hand, am perfect.) Occasionally I’ll catch this man glimpsing at our son with tenderness so raw and beautiful even I–Much Communication Deb–am rendered speechless. In these moments, I feel something akin to what I once felt looking at Edward Scissorhands. In words, that feeling would best be translated as: This is perfection.
Then reality kicks in again, and we’re left with the messy business of making real love work. You don’t have to work at infatuation; it’s based on your desire for something perfect and true rather than a reality that involves missed dates, misspoken words and misunderstandings. With infatuation, you get to revel in the intoxicating awesomesauce of an ideal instead of the truth of two living, breathing people trying to build something lasting. Read more…
My friend Sarah, a YA aficionado, read several drafts of The Monster’s Daughter. In her earlier reviews, she often called on characters like her hypothetical 16-year-old “Miss Sassypants” to help me evaluate potential problems with portions of the story. For example, she might say something like, “This is interesting, but I fear Miss Sassypants might look at this and say, ‘Oh, but on page 63, you said this, SO WHICH IS IT?!’” Sarah’s Miss Sassypants caused me many headaches at the time, but I remain greatly indebted to her. Without her, who knows what flaws would have remained overlooked by yours truly?
This morning, a couple years removed from critiques by Miss Sassypants, I delighted to read Sarah’s Amazon review of The Monster’s Daughter. The review might or might not have included this comment: “Our heroine Ginny, who’s a lot more Buffy than Bella, knows that vampires kill. They don’t sparkle.”
Thus it is that when I said, “I delighted to read,” I actually meant, “I giggled several times while desperately trying to reign in elation.” Thanks to the hypothetical Miss Sassypants, and the very much un-hypothetical Sarah, The Monster’s Daughter—while no War & Peace—is a much better read now than it was three years ago.