Kristina, the Girl King
by Carolyn Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Kristina, Girl King / 0-439-24976-7
As much as I love the Princess Diaries, I particularly enjoy those which feature princesses about which I know absolutely nothing. Kristina was one of these mystery princesses, for despite her unusual solo rule over her tiny kingdom, I had not heard of her previously in my history classes. Unfortunately, as fascinating as this princess is, I can't help but feel that the author missed a superb opportunity for introspection, and the story suffers for it.
A great deal of Kristina reads less like a diary and more like a narrative; Kristina does not waste much time recording her thoughts so much as recording daily events. So, for instance, she will record her unusual and scandalous behavior of dressing up secretly like a boy and riding astride (instead of side-saddle) her horse, and she will record how enjoyable the experience was ("I'll never ride side-saddle again!"), but she does not reflect much further on this line of thought, to wonder perhaps why a ruler cannot wear whatever they like or ride however they please, if that ruler is female. Kristina is frustrated, and rightfully so, that she must prove herself daily in ways that a boy would not have to, but she never considers why this must be so, or even suggests that this double-standard is unfair.
This is particularly jarring in her treatment of women in the novel. Kristina does not wish to be 'as good' as a man, or to be treated as though she were a man (i.e., with respect and disobedience). Rather, she wants to *be* a man, largely because she has internalized (in the author's imagination, at least) the message that women are weak and worthless creatures. As such, she uses her diary to heap scorn and derision on her female peers for choosing embroidery to sword-fighting, without considering such basic and obvious details such that Kristina's wealth and position places her in a unique position to pursue these manly pursuits. Kristina does not consider that she may pursue these hobbies relatively unmolested, but that her lady companions would be considered damaged and unsuited for marriage, condemned to a life of living in her father's home, derided for being a leach on the family's resources.
Where other Princess Diaries have used this disparity between what they are allowed to do and what their peers are allowed to do in order to highlight the class and gender boundaries in their society, Kristina wastes this opportunity to simply record (again and again!) how much she despises all women in general. This makes for rather uninteresting reading at times, because we feel that Kristina is too myopic to provide an interesting viewpoint for her society, and I'm not sure that this is a good message for young women, who already feel an enormous amount of pressure from our society that "girl pursuits" are frivolous and worthless.
In the end, I enjoyed Kristina well enough, in spite of its flaws, because her situation is so very unique and fascinating, but I did find myself wishing that this compelling princess had been portrayed by, perhaps, a different author.
~ Ana Mardoll
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