Princess For Hire, by Lindsey Leavitt (Hyperion 2010, upper middle grade, 256 pages)
Who would have thought that fish in a pet store aquarium could grant wishes? Not Desi. But reeling from an unfortunate encounter--one in which the head of her groundhog costume (part of her pet store job) is ripped off by her ex-best friend in front of the boy she's been crushing on for ages---she's willing to suspend disbelief. "I wish I was the kind of person who made an impact" (page 15).
Her chance comes that night, when a strange woman appears inside an iridescent bubble and offers Desi the chance to become a substitute princess. Turns out there's a lot of demand for girls with a touch of magic to them, willing to fill in for princesses who want to take a break. So Desi signs on the dotted line...and is off on a whirlwind adventure of princessly proportions.
Life as a princess, as Desi is soon to find out, isn't all yachts and bonbons. As a novice, Desi is starting at the bottom of the princess scale...the "easy" princesses, the one's whose lives aren't likely to be messed up by substitute incompetence. But Desi, even though she's not incompetent, had wished to make an impact....and before she's done, she's interfered rather dramatically with the lives of a Sheikh's daughter, the daughter of an Amazonian Chief, and that of a lonely girl from a very obscure branch of European royalty.
The job is not an easy one--it doesn't come with instructions about how to play the French horn, perform a tribal dance, or how to know when to kiss a handsome prince....but by trusting to her instincts, Desi finds the confidence to truly make an impact (for the better) on her princesses...and she gains confidence in her own life as well.
It's a fun and diverting book in its episodic way, and I'm pleased that two more are on the way. But, despite the pink and fluffy cover, it's not all makeup and fancy living. The lives that Desi steps into aren't anything like those lived by the stereotypical princess of her imaginings, for one thing (and I was rather pleased that my hackles weren't raised by Neo Colonialism/Western Imperialism in Leavitt's portrayal of these princess). But what raises it above just light reading into the realm of the thought-provoking is the rather appealing message that a fresh perspective on one's life can spotlight things that can be changed for the better.
And now I am now awfully curious about where the princesses go when they're "on vacation" from their own lives...
Note on age: The interest in boys side of life is part of the story, and there is one kiss, but it lightly done, and the book as a whole is very "middle grade" in feel -- less personal angst (although there is some) and more fun adventure than one finds in the average YA book.