Having suffered a tragic loss and been forced to leave behind her best friend when her family moves from Washington to Wisconsin seeking a fresh start, home-schooled Carrie retreats into a fantasy world in which her alter ego, Princess Caritas, embarks on a dangerous journey to save her family from an evil mercenary.
Though the premise of Heyne’s first middle-grade novel is promising, offering readers a story weaving together threads of Carrie’s real life with her escapist daydreams, the novel ultimately falls flat. The fantastical Caritas is a much more appealing character than Carrie, who spends most of the novel moping and reluctantly interacting with her family and new acquaintances. Though her grief is perfectly understandable, her self-imposed isolation combines with her tepid expression of her own emotions to make it difficult for readers to invest themselves in her journey. While readers may believe that Caritas’ mission is somehow an extension of Carrie’s own plight, the connection between fantasy and reality is disappointingly weak. The juxtaposition fails to offer them any meaningful insight into Carrie’s quest to make peace with her loss or her new circumstances.
In the end, even home-schooled, Catholic readers like Carrie will likely be turned off by the heavy-handed, didactic narrative. (Fiction. 9-13)