A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani
I normally don’t write reviews of books I haven’t finished. I also avoid reviewing books I don’t care for, preferring to save my energy for spreading the word about great books. But in this case, I am so bothered by what’s happened in this book so far that I feel compelled to talk about it now.
Let me start by saying I enjoyed The School For Good and Evil. It was refreshing to see stereotypes of good and evil challenged. Things are not black and white, but everyone has a bit of gray in them. Sophie and Agatha put their own twist on the fairy tale happy ending. So when I saw the title of this book, I figured it would continue the challenging of stereotypes of princes and princesses. I was expecting empowered heroines who rely on each other as best friends to rescue themselves. Instead of sending a positive about strong girls and strong friendships, it presents a very troubling picture where girls must choose between their female friends and boyfriends.
Agatha and Sophie are pulled back to the school, but much has changed. Ever and Never girls are no longer forced to conform to stereotypes of how witches or princesses are supposed to look. But this freedom comes at a price. It can only happen because boys have been banished from the school. Sophie and Agatha are drawn into a conflict because Agatha’s wish for a relationship with her prince can’t coexist with her friendship with Sophie and wishes for Sophie’s happiness. The message here is that boyfriends and girl friends are incompatible. A girl can have one or the other, not both.
Bad as it is to present the idea that you can’t maintain friendships with other girls because you care about a boy, worse is the message about how empowered women behave. They stop worrying about their appearance because they don’t have to interact with boys anymore. So does that mean if they are going to share a world with boys, they have to return to the stereotypes? (I admit, this could become clearer further along in the book – a hazard of reviewing before completing the book.)
And it gets worse. What’s the first thing the women of the world do once they realize they don’t have to have a prince for a Happy Ever After ending? They boot out the princes, banishing them, treating them as peasant and slaves, and just generally being incredibly cruel to all boys. This feels like a misogynist view of feminism. Empowered women are out to stick it to all the men.
Maybe as the book goes on, Chainani challenges this stereotype. But I fear even that won’t be enough to counter reinforcing it for at least the first quarter of the book. (I do know that the theme of being forced to choose between best friend and prince does continue throughout the entire story.) I have to admit to being so turned off that I am having trouble forcing myself to pick up the book to continue reading. I’m going to try to stick with it and finish the story. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. In which case, I’ll come back here and eat humble pie.