In her awkward first year, white Princess Grace faces challenges at Tall Towers Princess Academy.
Grace is the 13th princess in a class that traditionally has 12. Her cousin, blonde Princess Precious, is horrified that clumsy Grace is even allowed to attend. But Grace passes the unicorn test —if a unicorn picks a princess (an eyebrow-raising allusion to the unicorn/virgin myth), the princess stays. With numbing predictability, Grace trips, rips, and bumbles her way through lessons: how to curtsey, how to ride her unicorn sidesaddle, how to care a great deal about external appearances. Grace feels out of place; not because, as readers might hope, she sees how repressive all this is, but because she is not good at it. Racial diversity is included in Scott’s illustrations, although whites dominate in both numbers and leadership positions. Narratively, stereotypes, like a low-grade fever, pervade: diminutive Izumi is talented and hardworking, while Latisha is “sporty.” A proper princess, the girls are taught, is graceful, elegant, courteous, and selfless. The final scene hopes to be empowering but only manages to emphasize gender-role stereotypes as Grace is praised more for helping the (male) knight out of his distress by secretly volunteering in his place than for winning the joust.
As a story to teach girls that their proper roles are as appearance-conscious, selfless helpmates, it succeeds insidiously. (Fantasy. 8-10)