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Deb Caletti Explores Healthy Relationships in The Secret Life of Prince Charming

February 2, 2010
The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti
published by Simon Pulse April 7, 2009

When it came to love, my mother’s big advice was that there were WARNING SIGNS. About the “bad” guys, that is. The ones who would hurt you or take advantage or crumple you up and toss, same as that poem I would once try to write for Daniel Jarvis. The wrong men — the psychopaths, cheaters, liars, controllers, stalkers, ones too lazy or incompetent to hold a job, to hold their temper, to hold you properly, to hold anything but a joint or a beer bottle — well, there were RED FLAGS, and you had to watch for them. If you were handling love correctly, it should go the way of those Driver’s Ed videos, where things were jumping out at you right and left and you had to be on alert — a swerving truck, a child’s ball rolling into the street. The important thing was, love was dangerous. Love was that dark alley you were walking down where your purse might be snatched.

Seventeen-year-old Quinn lives in a circle of women — her mom, aunt, grandmother, and 11-year-old sister “Sprout.” The women in her family have had their hearts broken more times than they can count. The most gaping wound was left by Quinn’s father, who left Mom for a woman with whom he was having an affair. Mom, Grandma, and Aunt Annie distrust men — they even keep a running list, on the refrigerator, of warning signs a guy will leave you heartbroken.

Quinn’s father is handsome, charismatic and unreliable, a veteran of a string of failed relationships. He has recently come back into the girls’ lives after a long absence, and Quinn is eager to win and keep his love. After making a disturbing discovery at her father’s house, Quinn decides she needs answers. What kind of man is he, really? This prompts her to reconnect with a half sister she’s never really known and set off on a “karmic quest” to find out about her father’s past and right some wrongs.

The Secret Life of Prince Charming had all the elements I’ve come to know and love in Deb Caletti’s work, including an intelligent, articulate young female protagonist who pulls you into her heart and her psyche. Not to mention vivid, quirky characters, a bit of insight into what life and love is about, and a little romance. Caletti’s writing is so beautiful and vivid that I didn’t want to put the book down, and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of her characters.

There are several layers to this novel. One one level, it’s a story about a girl coming of age and trying to make sense of her family and her life. It’s also a study of relationships, and what a young woman should seek — or avoid — when choosing a partner. This is highlighted by brief monologues from various women in the story — and in Quinn’s father’s life — talking about falling in love, experiencing heartbreak, and discovering that love doesn’t have to be painful. I absolutely loved these snippets, but the way they were strewn throughout the book, they were distracting to me. I wished they had been placed at the beginning of each chapter, so they wouldn’t interrupt the flow of the story; that may be just a personal preference. The themes of coming of age, self-discovery, and relationships flow throughout the novel. On yet another level, it is about sisterhood — the deep bonds between sisters and among women.

I highly recommend this book to both teens and adults, and I think it would be a wonderful springboard for discussions among teens, or between teens and their parents, about love and intimacy and how our choices about relationships evolve over time.

Read More Reviews:
Once Upon a Book Blog/Fourteen Years
A Patchwork of Books
The Not So Closet Geeks
Bookshelves of Doom
The Compulsive Reader
Harmony Book Reviews
Reading Keeps You Sane
Shelf Elf

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