Book Review: Princess Ashley

October 3, 2010

I kept looking at Ashley Packard and saw her as a little girl entering kindergarten all those years ago. I saw she’d been in charge from the first day she set foot in the sandbox.

ashI keep trying to think about how best to summarize Princess Ashley by Richard Peck because it’s a book about several things at once, so I’m going to just take my cue from the title and say it’s about what happens when Chelsea becomes enamored with/worships popular and rich Ashley.

What I Liked

-Peck does a good job showing what happens when people are more concerned with appearances and the need to belong than with how people are treated. Chelsea is all about protecting her idea of cool and the people considered cool that she ignores Ashley’s manipulating ways. Even when confronted with the reality of Ashley’s true colors, Chelsea still fights hard to hang onto the ideal she has of Ashley. For Chelsea, Ashley is talented and sweet and honest and decidedly not the type of person who, say, pretends not to know a shy girl, yet buys that girl’s poetry to pass off as her own.

Chelsea also has that same attitude towards Ashley’s boyfriend, Craig. There’s this awesome, awesome scene between Chelsea and her mom after one of Craig’s pranks leads to a violent act towards and total humiliation of another student. All Chelsea cares about is if Craig will get in trouble, and if that will affect her status with Craig and Ashley. Nothing matters except that Craig keeps his title as king of cool–not even what becomes of the other boy. And her mom just calls her right on it. So awesome.

Peck, through Chelsea, also points out the way teens tend to be blind to their own attitudes in their quest to be cool/different. Chelsea attempts to get in with Ashley by imitating the way she dresses and wears her hair, yet she makes fun of younger girls who mimic the chosen cool girl in their grades. I just guess it’s different when Chelsea does it.

So, in that way, it’s a really nice look at peer pressure, and the delicate subtleties it often presents.

– Pod. Oh my word, I love me some Pod. He has his own affectation (his schtick is being a cowboy), but he drops it when it’s time to get serious. He sees every character exactly as they are, and he doesn’t play into Chelsea’s fairytale when she tries to defend Ashley or Craig. At the same time, he doesn’t berate Chelsea or treat her like she’s stupid.

Also, he hangs out with her parents and they love him. Pod! I think he might be treading on literary boyfriend ground here.

– This book is thoroughly ’80s. From the first page:

Was it the Michael Jackson year or the Prince year? No, it was the Madonna year, because I was wearing Madonna earring–with a sleeveless sweatshirt over cutoff jeans.

Then Peck mentions Sheila E.’s “The Glamourous Life“! Because without love? It ain’t much. It ain’t much.

I think I died at that part. That’s just how happy it made me.

– The end was predictably unpredictable by which I mean it was pretty clear how it was going to end, but there were some things that happened that I didn’t expect. In that way, the overall message wasn’t too heavy handed.

What I Didn’t Like

– The book covers a lot of time, and while I get a sense of the characters, I don’t feel like I actually know any of them, not even Chelsea.

– There’s also a narrative distance maintained, and I don’t know if that’s on purpose (it certainly could be because it works), but I don’t get a clear sense of the relationships either. There’s an inevitability to Pod and Chelsea, but I’m never really quite sure if she actually likes him or not. It’s weird.


In conclusion: A really good look at peer pressure and the need to belong without being too heavy handed or anti popular girl. It’s more about how these behaviors go unchecked and implicitly supported. If there wasn’t so much narrative distance, I would love it instead of just finding it okay.

YA Reading Challenge: 27/75

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  1. Trisha

    So there I am scrolling through my Google Reader and what do I see but Princess Ashley! What a flashback! I read this back in my grade school years and while I don’t remember the details of the book, the cover obviously stayed with me.

    • Akilah

      This was my first time reading it, so it was a different kind of nostalgia for me (the ’80s!). But I remembered liking Are You in the House Alone? and figured I’d give it a shot.



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