The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:
As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of books I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.
Synopsis: Leia is an atypical princess in that her life has been spent not at the mercy of nannies and waiting women but mostly with her parents, Breha and Bail Organa, who have taught her and helped her to develop interests and ways of thinking close to their own. This closeness has resulted in Leia noticing when the relationship between she and her parents gradually deteriorates. Suddenly her mother is a super-socialite, instead of being the kind of Queen who cares for her people. Suddenly her father is too busy to talk. As the distance between the once tight family grows, Leia is at first bewildered, then grieved, and finally resentful. She decides to get her parent's attention by excelling at her body, mind, and heart challenges, the traditional ceremonial challenges presented to an heir of Alderaan in order to earn the right to the throne. Leia figures that if she does something real using her body, mind and heart, they'll remember that she's a real person, and not a decorative object.
As it turns out, convincing her parents is not as easy as it seemed, and Leia goes to further and further lengths to prove herself to herself - to her classmates, and to her erstwhile parents. Meanwhile, the cold eye of the Empire is watching, as Leia flies closer to some disastrous political situations. Is the way to help to rebel against the powers that be, or is there anything else that a once decorative princess might do to help people? Leia figures there's only one way to find out.
Observations: Unlike many of the pop-culture tie-in books on the Cybils list this year, this one takes its canon entirely from a 70's era film, and not a WW2 era comic book series, thus making a space for a feminist ideal in which a young woman has agency, wit, and desire to do something with her privilege. It may give some readers a bit of a pinch in the heart to see a sketch of a young Carrie Fisher on the cover, but there will only ever be one Leia, because the film is, as always, the roots of the canon.
The author balances the headstrong and commanding rebel Leia from the Star Wars films with a wholly new character - filling in the echo of who that same person must have been at sixteen. Thus this Leia is written as impulsive, big-hearted, sensitive, and over-achieving. While she spends an inordinate amount of time pouting which seemed both remarkably "young" and out of character for a sixteen year old, and for a young lady who has been reared to the grace and dignity of a throne, the emotional tailspin the distance between them gives her reads as genuine.
Conclusion: Readers who are not hardcore Star Wars fans will be able to read this novel as a standalone and enjoy the story of a privileged, talented young girl with a big heart and an impulsive nature who makes mistakes and keeps trying to do something with who she is, for the betterment of all. Fans who are hardcore fans, having read all the books and the radio drama pre-Disney typically come down on either the love-or-hate side, but most fans agree that this novel is true to the canon. Fans of the film series only who come to this seeking the same enveloping Star Wars universe won't enjoy quite the same all-encompassing feel, but will find the roots of the epic stretching out and taking their place to support a galaxy-wide storyline.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find LEIA, PRINCESS OF ALDERAAN by Claudia Gray at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!