Release Date: May 8th 2012
Buy It: Book Depository
Paige Sheridan is pretty, rich, and popular. But when a night of partying ends in an it-could-have-been-so-much worse crash, everything changes. Her best friends start ignoring her, her boyfriend Jake grows cold and distant, and her younger sister now views her with contempt. The only bright spot is her creative writing class, led by a new teacher who encourages students to be true to themselves. But who is Paige, if not the homecoming princess everyone expects her to be?What makes this book is the setting. A lot of the story itself is kinda ordinary, but I honestly just loved reading a book that took place in Iowa. There are so many American states and it seems like most novels I read take place in the same select few (Mostly New York and California) so it was wonderful to get a feel for a place I've never been. There are all kinds of unique and interesting details in The Princesses of Iowa that really bring the place to life.
I'm pretty sure Paige's mom is one of the worst I've read about, and that's even considering the fact that she's not a drug addict and she didn't abandon Paige on somebody's doorsteps. Her manipulation and damage is much more subtle, and for that reason I found it even harder to read about. Paige isn't perfect either, but as a reader I could see her potential, and then it seemed like her mom was doing everything possible to push her in the opposite direction– so much concerned with how things looked that she didn't care about how things actually were.
Jake was another character I didn't like very much, even when he does things that are supposed to be charming, like writing Paige a poem, I just felt like shrugging. He spends all his time with Paige's best friend, Lacey, who also happens to be ignoring him. Needless to say, I never found myself rooting for them to work things out.
The Princesses of Iowa had a strong, emotional message to it, that Backes managed to deliver without sounding preachy, something the subject matter would have made it really easy to fall into. Paige is one of those characters, like Sam in Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall, that you might not exactly like at first– in this case, because she was kinda self-righteous and entitled– but they manage to grow enough over the course of the book that you can appreciate them by the end.
Even though I compared Paige to Sam, this book does not have a place in my heart like Before I Fall. That because as much as I loved the major storyline of the book, The Princesses of Iowa gets distracted and weighed down by this out of nowhere twist involving one of Paige's teachers, and the entire creative writing classes in general played way more of a role in the novel than seemed necessary. A lot of the time, when Backes wrote about what exercises they were doing in the course, it came across as more educational than story-like, and had difficulty keeping my attention.
At the end, the way Paige's experiences and writing came together was harmonious, but in order to get there, there was a lot of dragging that had a hard time keeping my attention. Even though The Princesses of Iowa veered off courses at times, Backes has written a debut with a great setting and some interesting, if not entirely likeable, characters, and I will be interested to see what comes next for her as an author.