24 January 2010

Anticipated ARCS: The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry


I finally got a chance to tackle the mountains of ARCS I brought home last weekend from ALA, and started with the upcoming book by Lois Lowry. Due for release in April 2010, The Birthday Ball tells the story of Princess Patricia Priscilla, who, a mere five days before her sixteenth birthday, can bear the boredom of privilege no longer. Hoping to live a little before she is required to choose a suitor at her birthday ball, Patricia Priscilla changes clothes with her chambermaid in order to visit the village incognito. There she starts to attend the local school, where her eyes are opened not just to the inequalities within her own domain, but to the choices available to her as an intelligent princess.

This is a very funny book, with enough over the top characterization and mistaken identity to please Shakespeare. The slightly maniacal illustrations by the great Jules Feiffer heighten the comedic effect of the story, as does the narrator's convivial tone. Buffoonery abounds, from the stone-deaf Queen, who lost her hearing because she was too vain to wear a hat on an extremely cold day; to the incessantly bickering Conjoint Counts who can agree on nothing except toilet humor; to the professional Splashers, who's sole duty is to make waves in bodies of water so that their odious master may never see how ugly he is. The Princess herself is not initially a sympathetic character by virtue of her condescending attitude about "peasants". She is a quick learner, however, and her natural compassion, born as much from a quick mind as a kind heart, breaks through.

Despite the fact that a princess appears on the cover on the book, complete with sparkles and a girl-friendly purple background, boys will find the three dreadful suitors (four, if you count the Conjoint Counts as two) appealing with their nasty habits and unsociable manners. For instance:

"[The Conjoint Counts] had a particular annoying prank that they played on each other. One would wait until his brother's face was turned toward his own, and then belch loudly at it and cry, "Gotcha!"
The belched-at one would invariably respond with a full-scale wedgie."

Wedgies and princesses? In the same book? Hard to resist, especially as a read-aloud.

Just as Princess Patricia Priscilla finds a way to control her fate, so does The Birthday Ball find a way to buck the conventions of the fairy tale. The ingredients are all in place, but Lowry deftly redefines 'Happily Ever After'. This one is a crowd pleaser all round.

2 comments:

Kelly said...

I did not know she had a new book coming out! Sounds delightfully fun!

the1stdaughter said...

This looks fabulous and I absolutely love Lois Lowry! I can't wait to pick it up. Maybe she'll be at Festival of Books in LA this year. I would love that! Thanks for sharing, I can't wait to read it.

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