Nov 30 2011
7th grader Priscilla Sumner lives a small town with her annoying siblings, a brainy best friend—and the most overly protective dad in the world. No yearbook photos, no news coverage, nada. Combined with the fact that her mom is always away on business trips, it’s no wonder Priscilla is a bit grumpy.
And then that time of month rolls by and she gains the powers of conjuring flames, super-hearing, and super-strength, among others. She freaks out, her best friend slowly drifts
away, more than one love triangle goes awry…Oh, and she gets kidnapped after her face appears on the local news.
Priscilla discovers her mom is a genetically-modified superhuman, her dad is a guard who liberated her from the nefarious Selliwood Institute, which wants their family, and those “business trips” are actually rescue mission for the rest of the children of the institution.
That’s only the first half of the book.
Priscilla the Great is a Middle Grade/Young Adult book with superhero elements. Everything about it was designed to have a bit of wit. Graphic novel-esque cover? Check. Witty first person narrator? Check. Sci-fi elements running on kid-flick coolness? Check.
Yet, it avoids the cheesiness and cleanliness of works like Spy Kids while retaining the fun.
- The cover was solid. It screams “graphic novel”, and this book is one in all-but-format.
- The voice in general. Priscilla easily conveys her thoughts in a way that I can empathize with the situations she’s getting into. There’s some melodrama every now and then, but she isn’t annoying, and she isn’t written so she talks down to the readers. For example, “How boring. [Dad] wouldn’t even negotiate down to a tankini so I could show off a sliver of stomach. I mean, I’m already built like a stick figure. A bikini would have at least given me the illusion of curves. And you can’t stuff a one-piece to create boobs. Believe me, I’ve tried. The tissue just fell down toward the stomach, making it look like I had cancerous alien tumors popping out of my gut.
- Unlike most MG books, it wasn’t squeaky-clean. Although it didn’t have any cursing, gore or sexual themes, it doesn’t gloss over the fact that Priscilla’s powers are seemly connected to her hot flashes. Later in the book, Priscilla’s mom also warns her if she doesn’t restrain herself enough while…romantically interacting with boys, she could burn them up. You don’t see that often.
- The ending. I didn’t expect this to be in a series, but hopefully the situation alluded to in the cliffhanger will be well-executed. But what caught me more is the fact that a potential
antagonist is mentioned—but doesn’t appear—in the climatic sequence. I can’t wait to see him/her in the next book.
What Sort of Worked
- The opening. According to the cover, it won a contest, but Priscilla’s voice seemed a bit unsettled. Perhaps it was how she reacted to the whole situation, along with the choppy sentence structure and her lines. (“Holy hot dogs!”)
What Could Have Been Improved
- The typology was occasionally distracting. While I don’t mind the bold type-space, I usually interpret spaces between paragraphs as a section break. I got used to it,
but only after the first quarter.
- It felt contrived that Priscilla’s parents didn’t tell their children their secret. It’s Priscilla’s ignorance that gets her kidnapped. It makes more sense logic-wise for Priscilla and her siblings (or at least her older brother, Josh) to be in on the secret, considering the risks of them developing their power and doing the revealing. It makes
more sense story-wise. But still…
- The romantic arc was a bit cliché. I would have picked a love interest more original than the childhood frenemy (Kyle). At least Kyle wasn’t a true best friend. That would be blatant. (Matched, anyone?) However, I like Priscilla’s attitude toward boys—she wasn’t losing her intelligence over them. Additionally, it would probably have been more interesting if they hadn’t been together in the end.
In general, this book is unusual. It’s aimed for middle schoolers, yet the protagonist’s voice in the narration rarely white-washes manners and maintains a bit of dynamic that makes her anything but boring. Except for one scene involving boogers in the middle, it doesn’t have the grossness of Dairy of a Wimpy Kid, but it doesn’t play coy like the tastefully mature Fire. Don’t be afraid to be bold when writing for such an audience.
Overall, I rate Priscilla the Great 3 ½ out of 5. If you are into YA, check it out.
The author is known by many names. To Interpol, he is only The Chihuahua. To librarians, he’s that guy, a possibly mythic figure rumored to have amassed $150 in late fees. He chronicles his observations of his writing, other people’s stories, his general life and possibly some tips for dodging librarians and INTERPOL here.