I decided to revisit some of the funniest private moments of my teenage years by re-reading the entire Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot these past two weeks. My first experiences with Mia were in the classroom or at my desk at home, tucking the book into a particularly large textbook and then being ‘studious’. Sorry Mom. Hey look, I graduated anyway! University too!
Mia Thermopolis isn’t your average teenager, role model, or princess. The entire series is filled with self-doubt, cringe-worthy embarrassing moments, and faux pas upon faux pas. But you know what. That’s life. It’s not that you have to get back up with flair or monumental success. It’s simply that you get out of bed, get dressed, and try again.
These books are so much fun and so easy to read that I found myself racing through at least one a day when I wasn’t too busy. Books 1-4 and 9-10 are the ones that I particularly couldn’t tear myself away from. It’s not that Cabot hit a lull with books 5-8, but maybe as a reader, I did? Perhaps it was because I read those particularly often when I was younger. I didn’t remember a lot about the earlier ones and had actually never read the final two! Those were a real treat. It was also refreshing to read YA that didn’t involve some sort of ‘saving the world’ plot or a storyline that made you weep.
There are a myriad of characters in the books and they’re all utterly dysfunctional members of society. Really, that’s putting it nicely. There were a few moments where I put the book down and wondered if I would want my child to read books like these and (gasp) identify with Mia and her friends. Parents might find it alarming when Mia, at 14 years old, calls her boyfriend the “love of her life”. Mia isn’t the strongest of female role models when she and her aforementioned heart’s saviour break up. In fact, she spirals into a black hole of depression where personal hygiene is scarce and homework is most definitely pointless. It can also be worrisome when placing emphasis on popularity and various socially acceptable things to do (by high school standards) is an explored theme. But, hey, guess what? It’s also 100% realistic.
I’ve been a 14 year old girl. Now, as a 23 year old woman (I’m training myself not to put a mental question mark every time I call myself a woman), I still have those crazy diary-worthy freak out moments. We’re all still going to feel like our worlds have ended when the love of our life leaves us. And yes, that first boyfriend whom you fall head over heels for is in fact the love of your life. At least, the first one. Yes we will make lists of who’s hotter (Prince William vs. Beast from Beauty and the Beast…I pick Will) and which TV shows kick ass (I personally believe Charmed DID trump Buffy but alas, I don’t believe many agree) and yes we will have face-warming, gut-wrenching, plain old AWFUL moments of embarrassment. We’re all going to be bitched at, talked about, lied to, cried upon, used, inspired, and influenced. Welcome to the real world.
Something very crucial and painful that happens in Mia’s life during books 9-10 (I won’t spoil it for you) is almost identical to a situation that I am currently facing. Just reading it made me feel anxious and upset all over again. There was a point where I almost stopped reading because I didn’t want to be reminded of my own issues. Reading is supposed to be about escapism, right? Something about the familiarity of the characters and story kept me going and when I finally finished the last page of the last book, I came out having realized a few things of my own. Things I may not have thought of or allowed myself to think of if I hadn’t seen it lain out through someone else’s eyes.
How could you ever go wrong with that?
So rather than deny my kids (when I have them) the HIGHlarious hijinks of Mia and company because I’m worried about providing acceptable role models, why don’t I just let them read about people just like them (hopefully the fiction account is slightly exaggerated buuuuut probably not)? They can choose to identify with the characters or not. But there’s guaranteed laughs and a renewed sense of “I’m not the only one”. Not to mention other worthy lessons such as:
- Not every family is perfect. But they’re yours and if anyone comes into your life, they need to accept your family as much as they accept you.
- True friends are the ones that will be there for you no matter what, even if there are some major roadblocks along the way.
- Trust that little voice inside.
- Be patient. Your boobs will eventually come in.
- It may not always be wise to mould your romantic relationships based on Jane Eyre.
- Everyone is going to have that bad haircut at least once. Deal with it.
- Don’t settle for mediocre “like” when you could have a very great love.
- It doesn’t matter that you’re a teenager, or female, or shy, or unpopular. You can still make a huge difference, even if it’s just in one person’s life.
- Second chances can be life changing.
- What’s that quote? Things will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it isn’t the end.
Do your adult selves a favour and revisit your teen years. You may roll your eyes but I can say with full certainty that half the things you’ll be snickering at are things you once did. As for your kids, remember that it’s not always about the perfect role model. Nobody’s perfect. Not even a Princess.