A socially awkward teenager discovers her true self in this fantasy-laced YA novel.
“Hunted by guardians from another world, hidden puzzles more than sixty years old, an impossible quest. And a beautiful girl in trouble,” says young Frenchman Quince, pretty much summing up the plot of Ritchey’s (Long Live the Suicide King, 2014, etc.) latest novel. The beautiful girl Quince is wooing is Beth, who begins the book thinking she’s ugly and fat and whose sad back story includes betrayal by her best friend and abandonment by her father. Her toxic mother constantly berates her, aligning with her younger sisters (think wicked stepmother and stepsisters, minus the “step”). Beth’s one joy is visiting her grandmother in the nursing home. Grandma May, however, plans to escape the facility and, with Beth’s help, fly to Paris to connect with Prince Phillip, a man she loved and left over six decades ago. But was he a man or, as Grandma explains, royalty from another planet who came to Earth with magic spells to fight the Nazis? Her tales of their adventures are interspersed with troubling senior moments that make Beth wonder whether May is actually senile. Regardless, Beth vows to get her to France. In the process, she outmaneuvers menacing tattooed “painted men” who follow her and May, meets cutie Quince, and decodes clues in Phillip-authored poetry that lead to treasure caches and perhaps to the prince himself. Beth transforms herself along the way from dowdy, insecure Bethie (a nickname she hates), always wearing a big, blue coat that is “her armor,” into the pretty, brave, titular Elizabeth: stylish, standing up to her mother, and falling in love. The story moves quickly, and the relationship between Elizabeth and Quince is flirty fun. Even though Elizabeth’s parents are terribly flawed, Ritchey kindly offers explanations for their behaviors. Scenes featuring Elizabeth’s French friends are especially enjoyable, but the cache (i.e., treasure) hunts can be confusing, and Grandma’s box of items from Phillip deserves a better name than her “special-special.”
A transformative tale for those who believe in magic and in a young girl’s heart—a grandmother’s too.