The pitch: Girl-power middle grade fantasy about a black girl! That was enough to get me to read it, honestly; it’s so rare. BeeBee is the orphaned daughter of the king and queen of Raven World. To keep her safe, she lives on a magical island with only three Godmommies and a tutor until she can take the Official Princess Test and return to claim her birthright.
The review: …I guess? The actual plot doesn’t feel that clear, and the pacing is way, way off, and things that should be symbols are literal and vice versa. The OPT is pretty important for awhile, but why does she really need to take it? There’s a lot about needing to meet eight other princesses who live on the other side of the island, but why are they just sitting there, and what will meeting them accomplish? What’s the current situation in Raven World? Is Bee in a rush to get back there so she can do her duty as the heir, or isn’t she — and if not, why on earth not?
It feels like a book written by someone who doesn’t know how to write for kids. (Alice Randall is the author of The Wind Done Gone, so she is an accomplished author for adults; Caroline Randall Williams is her daughter, a first-time author.) Writing for kids isn’t about cobbling together fantasy elements (orphan, princess, destiny, prophecy, journey of self-discovery, romance) to create a feel-good Important Message. Kids need world-building, and they need mysteries whose answers fit with the world that has been created. They need a clear plot with a conflict and a journey and a goal (or more than one, of course, but they should be clear).
And messages are well and good, but the message needs to emerge organically from the story or kids will roll their eyes as much as I did. This book screamed so loudly, “You are beautiful and brilliant and worthy and girl power and black power and boys are nice but you need to be yourself first and environmentalism and self-sufficiency and world peace and btw Shakespeare and chess and vocabulary words are awesome!!!!” that as much as I love every single one of those messages, the presentation of them in this story made me weary.
I can’t help but be fairly sure that the authors started this book with “Let’s write a book to show black girls that they can be powerful, pretty princesses” rather than “Hey, what if this beekeeping black girl on a magical island were secretly an orphaned princess?” And message-first is death to any book, for kids or adults.
Also reviewed by: Kirkus, A Wrung Sponge, and Crazy QuiltEdi. Everyone loves it but me. I’ll be curious what my students think — I think I’m usually pretty good at predicting (possibly because I have the reading sophistication of a 12-year-old), but I have been wrong before!