In The Wide-Awake Princess, Princess Annabelle (Annie) is the younger sister of Gwendolyn—the most beautiful princess in the world, cursed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and sleep for a hundred years. When Annie is born, their parents want to avoid another fairy curse, so they ask the wisest fairy to protect her. She makes Annie immune to all magic—in fact, Annie’s presence starts to undo magic spells. Annie can also sense when magic is around. This makes her less than popular in a world infused with magic.
Of course, despite all precautions, Gwendolyn falls asleep, along with the entire castle—except for Annie. She sets out on a quest to save her sister and is soon joined by Liam, a nice young guard who was on an errand and therefore avoided the effects of the spell. They wander through the country, encountering many fairytale characters along the way and collecting princes in the hope that one of them will be Gwen’s true love and break the spell.
This is a fun story, especially since the fairytale characters and situations often aren’t explicitly called out so it’s up to the reader to put the pieces together. The story doesn’t rely on the reader knowing all the fairytales, but it’s fun to figure it out. Annie is clever and amusing, while Liam is straightforward and self-sufficient. Together they make a good team.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
There are kidnappers after Annie. Liam threatens people with his sword and seems clearly capable of following up. A witch is turned into a beetle and squished. There’s also an underlying villainous plot that doesn’t really come to light until the end of the book—it’s diabolical, but almost an afterthought.
Romance & Sex
The friendship between Annie and Liam starts to become more, although it’s all very innocent. We learn secondhand that Rapunzel had a different prince for every day of the week coming to visit her tower, and one of them was married. The princes and princesses are all about getting married. However, as often as not, it turns out that “true” love isn’t.
Most of the princes and princess are handsome or beautiful, but it’s clear that it’s all through magic. Annie finds perfect beauty to be so normal that it’s boring. Annie and Liam aren’t magically enhanced, which is part of what they find attractive about each other. Of course, people routinely point out to Annie that she’s not beautiful enough to be a princess.
Because Annie erodes her family’s magical enhancements, she’s quite isolated—they won’t let her too close, let alone touch her. Still, they love her in their own dysfunctional way.
Liam’s father is loving, supportive, and wonderful, but his mother and older brother are awful. They’re mean to him and they’re behind the diabolical plot. They seem like they’d be happy to see him dead, so yeah, they’re pretty awful.
Annie, with her lack of magical enhancements, doesn’t seem much like a princess to many people. But she’s clever, catching on to whatever games people are playing. Only a few people see this as a good trait. She’s also not above threatening people with her ability to erode magic.
Most of the princes in the story are borderline incompetent, focused on appearance more than anything else.
Alcohol & Drugs
Prince Digby is a drunk—he hangs out in taverns with barmaids and gets soused. He’s a minor character, and his behavior is certainly never glamorized. When his magically enhanced appearance erodes, he’s pretty much a mess.
Annie is given food laced with a sleeping drug. However, it seems to have little effect on her.
I enjoyed this take on a fairytale world. Despite having “princess” in the title, I think boys would enjoy this story too, especially if they’re familiar with fairytales. It’s suitable for ages 8 and up.