I Am Princess X, by Cherie Priest

Sometimes, a book just finds you, almost as if someone left it there for you to lead you on a journey if you follow the clues. I’m convinced that happened to me with this book. Apparently, I added it to my Goodreads to-read list sometime in the past year or so—not sure when—and forgot about it. I teach creative writing in a summer arts program, held in a middle school, and I teach in the library. Yesterday (yes, yesterday), I arrived and this book was on my desk, coincidentally (or not) on the day after I finished the book I had been reading. I read the description on the back cover of the book and must have had the same reaction as I had when first adding it on Goodreads. It had an awesome premise, and I wanted to read it.

And now was time.

Libby and May first meet in Seattle in fifth grade, where separate medical reasons cause them to sit out gym class against the brick wall of their school during kindergarten recess. Libby entertains some younger kids by drawing in chalk on the asphalt, creating a kick-ass character named Princess X (see the book cover). This starts a wonderful friendship as Libby and May create adventures for the character—Libby does the artwork, and May writes the stories.

But a few years later, Libby and her mother die in a tragic car accident. May moves with her mother back to Atlanta after her parents divorce. And the notebooks of Princess X drawings and stories that had been at Libby’s house are gone, as much in the house had been donated to various thrift stores and such.

While spending the summer in Seattle with her father a few years after that, May stumbles upon a decal with an image of Princess X. It leads her to a webcomic including one panel of two girls drawing with chalk in a schoolyard—girls that could be Libby and May. But the comic May reads online explains Princess X’s backstory, which she and Libby never wrote. Could someone have found their notebooks and is creating new material to post online? Or could it mean that Libby didn’t die that night? May enlists the help of Trick, a computer/internet-savvy neighbor who just graduated high school and has his own motivation, to search for the creator of the Princess X website.

This is a great set-up, and it’s not anything the book description doesn’t already share. I’m not going to spoil much more else about the plot. Trick uses his online skills and May deciphers hidden meaning in the webcomic’s story, while there are forces working against them. They follow the clues left for them on their fast-paced journey, just as I devoured the book left for me in about a twenty-four hour time period.

It’s a fun premise, and it’s a fun read, especially if you like treasure-hunt/mystery style stories and crime capers. The book includes illustrations of the Princess X webcomic as May discovers them, and they’re integrated perfectly into the story. It’s never a gimmick or a mere plot device; it’s organic to the story.

The characters maybe could be developed a little deeper, but it’s never a hindrance to the story’s enjoyment. May and Trick are still relatable, and even more importantly, they’re active characters who use their intelligence and wits to solve the problems. And it’s so refreshing that there’s no romance between them, thus avoiding a YA trope. Also, it was also refreshing to see the main character May have a healthy relationship with her father. Though he’s skeptical, he doesn’t arbitrarily shut May down, and instead offers understanding and assistance at times in her journey.

I’m glad I picked up the book (literally) and followed May’s journey. It was a clever, fun, quick, quirky, gripping, enjoyable read, perfect for summertime. And if I’m drawing out those descriptive words, then I Am Princess X swings her katana sword through FIVE STARS.

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I Am Princess X is available at Amazon.

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