Once upon a time, two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons and scaled all the mountains their imaginations could conjure. Once upon a few years later, Libby was in the car with her mom, driving across the Ballard Bridge on a rainy night. When the car went over the side, Libby passed away, and Princess X died with her. Once upon a now: May is sixteen and lonely, wandering the streets of Seattle, when she sees a sticker slapped in a corner window. Princess X? When May looks around, she sees the Princess everywhere: Stickers. Patches. Graffiti. There's an entire underground culture, focused around a webcomic at IAmPrincessX.com. The more May explores the webcomic, the more she sees disturbing similarities between Libby's story and Princess X online. And that means that only one person could have started this phenomenon---her best friend, Libby, who lives.
I Am Princess XFeatured
Cherie Priest takes a seemingly simple plot and pumps it full of suspense and mystery: Two best friends, Libby and May write a comic together about Princess X. After Libby dies in a car accident, the stories stop. May is left alone, and Princess X dies with Libby. Years after Libby’s death May sees a sticker of Princess X as she walks around Seattle. THEIR Princess X. Tracking down a webcomic by the same name, May discovers a story that closely resembles her and Libby’s past creations. So close in fact, May is convinced that not only is it the same comic, but that Libby is somehow behind it.
The writing is simple and clean, contrasting nicely against Seattle’s gritty backdrop. From the first chapter, to the last, this book is a no-frills approach to solving a mystery and the power of friendship. Princess X is created on a whim, and out of that, a bond is formed between the two girls that even death can’t break. What happens can only be described as an epic quest, as May joins up with sidekicks who help her navigate the very real world that hold clues to Libby’s possible escape from death. Even though the two characters aren’t together for more than a few chapters, Libby and May’s friendship is very much alive throughout.
The darker themes of the book are lightened by the quick humor of May and her new friend, Trick. I loved Trick for believing in May and Princess X, risking his life in many ways, and never putting on a mask of “tough guy.” I also loved that there was no romantic tension between the two, just an easy friendship. This made him the most believable male character I’ve come across in a long time. He wasn’t the only strong supporting character, however. I’m a sucker for stories with positive family relations, and that’s exactly what May’s dad is. Not only does he support May’s search for Libby, he goes so far as to supply her with as much information as possible. Even if it’s a small role, I found it to be a touching addition to the relationships in this novel.
The mystery is well paced and riveting, but the story isn’t the only interesting thing about this book. The design of the book is a pleasant nod to indie webcomics. From the color scheme, to the illustrations, the comic portion of the book is enchanting. The first thing you see when you crack open the covers is a close up drawing of Princess X. The following pages are peppered with various frames and full pages of pieces of her story. Even before you read the first words, your mind is racing to gather clues - anything that might tell you if Libby is really alive. Rather than detract from the story, the sparse comic strips pull you deeper into the dark world of Princess X’s nightmare. Each chapter heading has Princess X’s eyes gazing out at the reader, a constant plea to not be forgotten. Apart from adding depth to the story, the illustrations are just plain beautiful and an enjoyable addition.
I was a little disappointed (mild spoiler) when I realized that it wasn’t wholly Libby behind the amazing computer hacking skills responsible for the webcomic and subsequent clues. I had hoped that we would get to add another tech-savvy girl to the small list of coder girls, but even May isn’t able to handle the technology side of the plot without the aid of two “genius” hacker boys. In the end, it brought two interesting characters into the story, but I had desperately hoped one of the girls would be able to storm the virtual castle.
This book reminded me of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother in terms character, and would be perfect for fans of graphic novels and mysteries alike. Overall, it was an engaging read with a great comic book vibe.
I Am Princess X is a really unique blend of graphic novel and traditional storytelling. Sprinkled throughout the book are pieces of a graphic novel that features a princess trying to escape her captor and find several items of power in order to save her kingdom. The illustrations are beautiful and the story of Princess X melds with the mystery of the missing girl in a really interesting way. I do wish my review copy had included more of the illustrations, but I will definitely be picking up a finished copy when it is released.
I enjoyed the characters but I do wish there had been more development and that they had been more consistent, for example Trick is given the backstory of having made some poor decisions, losing his scholarship and doing whatever he can in order to earn enough money to pay for school himself. However, once he meets May, he drops all of that in order to run around the city looking for clues to Libby's whereabouts. I was pretty happy with the complete lack of a romantic storyline. That is downright refreshing in a YA novel and I felt that May had a pretty realistic relationship with her parents.
Unfortunately, I Am Princess X suffered from that same old issue when writers who are used to writing for an adult audience make the foray into young adult. They just don't seem to give young readers enough credit. This leads to a strange style of writing where they appear to "dumb things down", as if the writer thought she had to make it easier in order for a teen to "get it". This meant there was lots of repetition of things that we already knew (like the fact that she went to Libby's funeral or that she prefers hot chocolate to coffee), bland statements of facts and recaps of events, with little to no nuance to the mystery itself. It also made reference to tech and social media in a very "look, I'm a cool adult, I know what twitter is" kind of way.
Ultimately, I am Princess X is a suspenseful story about a missing girl. And it does this very well. May searches for clues in the comics and then those translate into real life adventures to find the "keys" Libby has left behind. There is a real sense of danger as the bad guy is your Criminal Minds type kidnapper with an intelligent manner of planning and some serious tech savvy skills that keep the kids running.
It is a great read for those interested in a quick mystery and it will really appeal to fans of graphic novels who want to explore how the genre can work within a traditional story.