The truth is (and I don't admit this often), I'm ordinary. It's not a bad thing, and it's not all I am, but it's true. I'm not one of those girls with shiny blonde hair and a roses-and-cream complexion, and I never have been. When I walk outside on a spring morning, you won't find trails of cartoon hearts and bluebirds dancing in my wake. I'm kinda average looking. And before this post turns into the ultimate pity party, here's the thing: I'm cool with that. And I think I can attribute this well-adjusted coolness, at least in part, to one book...
On my seventh birthday, my mother gave me a copy of M.M Kaye's The Ordinary Princess. It's the story of the youngest princess of the Phantasmoranian royal family, born as beautiful as her six older sisters but seemingly cursed by a temperamental fairy at her own christening. The cheek! Princess Amythyst won't fall asleep for a hundred years or anything alarming like that, but she will be ordinary. Her golden hair turns mousy brown, the tip of her nose turns up, and her skin turns freckled instead of peachy. She's known as plain old Amy, and prefers talking to woodland creatures to other more royal pastimes. As she grows, her parents fret about how they're ever going to marry her off to an eligible prince when she's so... unprincesslike. Sick of it all, Amy runs away and becomes a kitchenmaid at the palace of a nearby kingdom, where she meets an equally ordinary man-of-all work who might just be her prince charming.
Aged seven, this book instantly became a firm favourite of mine. I was enchanted by Amy's story. I don't recall specifically relating to Amy because of her ordinariness, but even then I had a sense that this was a way more relevant fairytale than the ones I was used to. Some would see Amy's ordinariness as a curse, but Amy sees it as the gift it was intended to be. It leads her to have adventures that her refined and beautiful sisters miss out on, and prompts the lovely Perry to fall in love with her altogether more worthwhile qualities like wit and charm.
Rereading The Ordinary Princess, what strikes me is that my seven year old self was actually really smart, way back before hormones and peer pressure got in the way. I wholeheartedly believed that beauty was only skin deep and that it was better to have adventures than admirers, and The Ordinary Princess fit that ethos perfectly. It inspired me to be the kind of girl who doesn't sit around simpering and waiting for a suitor to rescue me - because honestly, what kind of suitor does that attract anyway? Not one you can spar with, like Amy's Perry. A fairytale princess who responds to her parents' old-fashioned demands by moving out of home and getting a job? Now that's a good role model.
And as well as being inspiring, this book is brimful of fairytale charm, despite its modern take on the genre. It's got a super romance with a twist you'll see coming but still love. In fact, I'm even willing to overlook the fact that Amy talks to animals, and usually I have no patience for an MC exhibiting that kind of behaviour.
Verdict: this book is a classic. It's sweet and sincere, with a smart and sassy heroine. It's a book that says happily ever after is about more than the union of beautiful and handsome. A must-read for anyone who enjoys fairytale retellings.