Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An American Girl in Saxony-Coburn Or: A Royal Pain

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I started a series on the Young Adult fiction I read as a, ahem, young adult. As of today this series has been revived by a lucky thrift store find!
Written by: Ellen Conford
Publication: 1986, Scholastic Inc.
Original Price: $2.50
Purchase Price: 27¢

At one point or another, every girl imagines herself as a long lost princess. When our parents nag us to clean our rooms, when we can't afford that pair of $120 jeans, when the radio in our hand-me-down car won't work...we pretend there was some great mix-up. In truth, we were born to royalty and somehow switched with some lowly commoner. Sadly we are forced to deal with her petty white girl problems when we should be wearing satin ball gowns and riding in a carriage.

Of course it's all just a fantasy brought on by decades of Disney exposure. No girl would really give up her family, friends, and home for a life of glamour and pampering. Right?

Even though she was born in the microscopic European principality of Saxony-Coburn, fifteen-year-old Abby Adams is just a normal girl from Kansas. That is, until the day she learns she was accidentally switched at birth by a doctor drunk on elderberry wine. It turns out she is Dolores Theodora Marie Celeste, Princess Florinda XVI, heir to the throne of Saxony-Coburn.

Abby heads to Europe and is given the royal treatment. Her birth parents are all right and princess lessons are interesting. She even enjoys the media attention, especially from Geoffrey Torunga, a twenty year old journalist. However, Abby misses her basic freedoms and Dolores, her "twin", is not taking the switch well at all. And worst of all is Prince Casimir of Arcania, Abby's betrothed. His creepy amorous tendencies and hobby of taxidermy are major turn offs.

But Saxony-Coburn is broke and Abby's marriage will save the country from ruin. In a mere three weeks, on her sixteenth birthday, the wedding is set to take place. Abby must find a way to save herself from the horrid arranged marriage before it's too late. Geoffrey stages an assassination attempt and Abby escapes.

As you probably guessed, Abby is not really Princess Florinda. The evidence, a confession written by the drunk doctor, was really a forgery penned by an anti-royalist group. Dolores happily marries Casimir. Abby returns to the States with her family. Geoffrey writes her every week and plans on visiting in the fall (sure he will). And the story will soon be made into a miniseries.

I first checked this book out from the Whitman County Library back 2000 and was an immediate fan. In fact, this might have been my first Ellen Conford book. Conford is a drastically underrated author from the Golden Age of YAF*. Some of her other books include Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate and Seven Days to a Brand New Me. Anyway, one of the reasons I loved it so was due to the innocent (but requited!) romance between Abby and golden Adonis Geoffrey. This time around I was amused by Geoffrey's...well, perfection. I mean, the guy has no faults! He speaks French and English, he was an Olympic downhill skier, he rescues her from the evil Casimir...sigh. No wonder I'm screwed up about men.

A Royal Pain is lighthearted and fun. Never for a moment do you think Abby is really Princess Florinda. You never fear that she will marry Casimir or that he will takes his husbandly rights every hour on the hour. You know it's one of those books that'll have a Just Kidding ending and Abby will be back in Kansas in time for dinner. And that's okay. We need simple rompy PG books like this one. A Royal Pain is great for a Disney Channel Original movie, and I say that with the utmost respect for Disney Channel Original movies.

We all known YAF is timeless, meant to be consumed by every future generation, but sometimes a few signs of the times slip through. Let's look at the 80's-isms found in A Royal Pain.

Essence of '86
  • Along with her clothes and personal items, Abby insists on bringing her stereo box (another name for boom box?) from America. 
  • Abby wears leg warmers to stay warm in the drafty palace and there is no reference to her being a ballerina.
  • No VCR's in Saxony-Coburn. :-( 
  • "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees is played at the ball, unironically.
  • Abby roller skates around the ballroom while blasting a Def Leppard cassette tape. (It was most likely Pyromania released in 1983).
  • Abby and her family play Trivial Pursuit, which of course is still played today but reached its sales peak in 1984.
  • The miniseries version of Abby's story will star Morgan Fairchild (who was 36 in 1986!), the anti-royalists will be communists (yes, I know there are still communists, but I'll bet they're Russian communists), and her pet dog will be played by Benji.
  • Other references, not necessarily dated: Abby's brother watches Leave It To Beaver. Prince Albert (Abby's birth father) is a fan of Humphrey Bogart and Cap'n Crunch. Dolores has a stuffed Snoopy doll. Abby watches The Mouse That Roared (1955) on TV in French. Prince Casimir resembles Tony Perkins from Psycho. The Wizard of Oz is playing at the local movie theatre. Geoffrey says saving Abby is "just like Raiders [of the Lost Ark]". 
*That's right, 1970-1986 = fucking Golden Age of Young Adult Fiction. You saw it here first, folks!

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