The Secret Life of Prince Charming: Reviews
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
In a trenchant romance, NBA finalist Caletti (The Fortunes of Indigo Skye) detonates a few stereotypes about love even as her 17-year-old narrator falls head over heels for Mr. Right. Quinn, raised by a mother whose favorite lecture is “All Men Are Assholes,” nevertheless feels loyal to her father, the eponymous Prince Charming whose self-centeredness harms the women he woos. She protects herself, she thinks, by making “good choices,” which, she belatedly realizes, “also meant other people’s choices.” But when she discovers that her father has stolen objects prized by each of his lovers and wives, she determines to return them to their rightful owners; it’s metaphorical as well as physical restitution. Joining up with a barely known half-sister, Quinn and her younger sister embark on a road trip; as the three meet the women injured by their father, Quinn also meets a wonderful guy, the antithesis of the supposedly safe boy she’d dated before; and everyone learns lessons in love. Interspersed throughout are monologues from the female adult characters (including Quinn’s grandmother and aunt, who live with her), which add both perspective and a large dose of wit. Caletti’s gifts for voice and for conjuring multidimensional personalities are at their sharpest. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
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Caletti traverses familiar narrative terrain-emotionally wounded women search for Mr. Right amongst an overabundance of Mr. Wrongs-and adds a road trip as the vehicle for finding truth. Seventeen-year-old Quinn Hunt is appalled when she discovers that her father, a womanizer, has kept as trophies objects of great emotional importance that belonged to each of his numerous lovers. Along with a cast of unlikely mates, including a stepsister she’s never met, Quinn sets off to return the stolen items. Slow going at first, the familiar plot perks up during the trip. The first-person narrative is humorous and chatty as Quinn recounts her frustration with her father and her hopes that this “karmic mission” will heal their strained relationship. Punctuating this, and set apart in a different typeface, are the accounts of the other female characters as they share their romantic mistakes. The author excels at getting to the heart of her protagonists’ mixed-up emotions, and her fans will not be disappointed. (Fiction. 14 & up)
The New York Public Library
The Secret Life of Prince Charming (2009) is the latest book from critically acclaimed writer Deb Caletti. Some have suggested that the cover art is misleading, suggesting to readers that they will find a peppy, romantic comedy type of book inside. If, however, the cover is taken more in terms of generalities, it is a perfect visual representation of this book’s core–a meditation on love, truth, family and, of course, relationships.
Seventeen-year-old Quinn has grown up in the shadow of bad relationships. She knows all the gory details of her aunt’s numerous breakups, the story behind her grandmother’s two collapsed marriages. Quinn and her little sister Sprout are also intimately familiar with their mother’s divorce from their father. Despite all that knowing, Quinn is still desperate for her father to be a part of her life.
Still, in order to combat all of those poor choices, Quinn has made herself into the responsible girl who makes good and wise decisions. That facade begins to slip away when Quinn starts to look more closely at her life and the objects that inhabit it. Quinn already knew that her father wasn’t perfect. Charming, witty, fun Barry can also be selfish, irresponsible and vindictive. When she realizes that Barry has amassed trophies from every one of his ex-girlfriends, Quinn knows she has to take action.
Such is the start of the road trip at the core of The Secret Life of Prince Charming. With the help of the half-sister she doesn’t know and the little sister who might see more clearly than either, Quinn sets out to right her father’s wrongs and return the objects to their rightful owners. What starts as a simple delivery mission turns into something more as each stop brings Quinn closer to the father she never really knew.
This book handles a lot of things in a masterful way. First and foremost the writing throughout the novel is, frankly, stunning. Quinn’s narrative is interspersed with snippets of advice from the women in Barry’s life talking about love and their own past relationships. In total this amounts to about half a dozen different narrative voices in one novel. The characters are all well-realized and truly unique.
Caletti also provides an interesting window onto the reality of divorce as seen by the children when no one is watching. Most of all, though, this story deals with what it really means to have an estranged father. Despite all of the evidence, Quinn loves her father and in many ways idolizes him at the beginning of the story. As the plot moves forward, Quinn is forced to address her mixed feelings for her father and acknowledge that the truth about him might be very different from the image she created over the years. (The idolization of father figures is not always something that makes sense to me but Caletti carefully examines the subject from all angles and integrates it well into the storyline.)
The Secret Life of Prince Charming is not a lot of things. It is not action-packed. It is not, in some ways, much of a romance. It is not fast paced. But this book is compelling and beautiful and highly recommended.