Keep that tiara handy, because the princess craze is in full swing. Disney after-school specials, Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries series, and even many classics tap into girlhood fantasies of switching places with a beautiful, glamorous royal whose wish is everyone else's command. In Kate Brian's The Princess and the Pauper, however, the "pauper," a 16-year-old from L.A. named Julia Johnson, isn't remotely interested in being a princess until she's offered $10,000 to swap places with one, money that could keep she and her mom from being evicted from their run-down L.A. apartment.
The story begins when Carina, crown princess of Vineland, meets an American rocker dude named Ribbit on the Internet and desperately wants to hook up with him in L.A. when she's on a "goodwill tour" of the U.S. When she visits L.A.'s Rosewood Academy, her friend Ingrid discovers Julia, who looks enough like Carina to take her place and fill in for her on the night of the Toadmuffin concert. The makeovers go well, but the scheme (surprise!) goes terribly awry. The utterly sheltered princess ("who makes Rapunzel look free") wakes up the morning after the concert with a hungover Ribbit in a beat-up van on the way to Texas, and Julia ends up falling in love with the "duller than biology" Markus Ingvaldsson, the boy Carina is destined to marry. While the princess does manage to squirm out of danger in the desert, the two imposters don't manage to reconnect before the plane leaves for Vinelandia with the wrong girl on it.
The narrative switches back and forth from rebellious, sarcastic teen Julia's voice to rebellious, sarcastic teen Carina's, which, as it turns out, aren't as different as their backgrounds would suggest. Popular culture and L.A. references abound--the princess compares herself to Buffy "when she had to hide her whole secret slayer life" and Julia describes a world of Crest Whitestrips and Kelly Osborne haircuts. While predictable and a bit too familiar, The Princess and the Pauper will no doubt appeal to girls who haven't quite yet had enough of the trials and tribulations of an unlikely princess. (Ages 12 and older) --Karin Snelson