Top critical review
Princess and the Pauper, multicultural, chick lit novel set in Toronto
Reviewed in the United States on October 10, 2021
Twenty-something Gracie Reed of Toronto is a multiracial citizen of Canada, who was born to a Euro-Canadian father and a Chinese-immigrant mother. Gracie has been working the past several years in a corporate job with a slimy, sexually harassing boss. Every time he has harassed her, she has felt frozen and voiceless, up to and including the day he fires her because she doesn’t leap on the chance to be his personal sex slave as the price of admission for holding onto her job. After her illegal firing, Gracie does not file a complaint or take any action whatsoever against this degenerate.
The main reason Gracie has told herself, before her illegal firing, that she has had no choice but to hold onto her horrible job is that her mother has Alzheimer's. Gracie does not have to pay anything for her care, because Canada provides state-funded residential care for its mentally and physically incapacitated citizens. But, as far as Gracie is concerned, that’s not good enough, because the government only pays for a double room, and Gracie believes that her mother deserves and needs a single room—even though the vast majority of the time she is not lucid enough to notice her surroundings, including recognizing Gracie herself. Gracie has put her mother on the waiting list to move to a fancy, private, residential facility, which she has zero means to pay for. However, she entertains a vague hope that money will somehow fall out of the sky to pay the facility’s exorbitant fees by the time her mother’s name rises to the top of the waiting list.
Then, lo and behold! Money actually does magically manifest—$100,000 of it. One day while walking down the street, a mysterious SUV with tinted windows pulls up beside her, revealing the internationally famous stars of Chinese TV and cinema, exquisitely beautiful Wei Fangli and heart-stoppingly handsome Sam Yao. Due to Gracie’s identical-twin-like resemblance to Fangli, the burned-out actress believes that Gracie is her own personal miracle, as well. She pleads with Gracie to serve as her stand-in for a series of publicity events which are scheduled during her stay in Toronto while she is appearing with Sam in a play. If Gracie does this for her, it will permit Fangli to have some vitally important down time to rest and decompress when not performing in the play. The problem is, 30-year-old Sam is very protective of Fangli, with whom he has been best friends since childhood. He automatically assumes, with no evidence—since Fangli has approached Gracie, not the other way around—that the very fact that Gracie might even consider this fantastically profitable offer means she must be an opportunistic user.
I experienced this novel as an audiobook narrated by the talented actor, Phillipa Soo. While her portrayal of the various male and female voices and accents is excellent, the problem with this novel in audiobook format is that it goes by at about one-third the rate it would take one to read it to oneself. It is a major test of the quality of a novel if it can stand up to that kind of close scrutiny. For me, there are multiple plot issues that, sadly, impaired my enjoyment:
1. It is awfully convenient that Gracie’s utterly unaffordable desire to offer her mother the best of the best in residential care is magically bankrolled by a huge payout of $100,000 for being a stand-in for a rich actress.
2. It is poorly motivated that Gracie is consistently frozen and voiceless with her horrible boss, even on the day when she is fired and has nothing to lose, but does not hesitate to go toe-to-toe endlessly with Sam, who is merely distrustfully abrasive, rather than cruelly, sexually abusive—and might potentially stand in the way of her earning $100,000 she wants so badly for her mother’s care.
3. Given the fact that Gracie is clearly beautiful, since she is a clone for one of the most gorgeous women in the world, it is rather strange that she has no confidence at all about her looks.
4. This book is extremely redundant. There is scene after scene with the same type of events: Gracie showering, putting on makeup, fixing her hair and picking out and dressing up in designer clothing and accessories. Gracie going to various publicity events. Gracie fighting with Sam. Gracie studying Chinese (since her mother did not speak it with her growing up). Gracie working on her time-management app. After a while I started fast-forwarding over these repetitious scenes just to get to the relatively sparse scenes which advance the romance plot, since this book is billed as a romance.
5. The romance itself takes up what felt like, to me at least, only about 33% of the book, to the point that it becomes a subplot, not the main focus of the book that it is advertised by the publisher to be. The relationship itself is exceedingly slow burn, with very little chemistry or passion between Gracie and Sam throughout the book, and the sole sex scene very late in the book is offstage. Some readers may not mind that authorial choice. And, actually, I myself wouldn’t myself mind it nearly as much if there were more on-stage focus on the romance and more chemistry between Gracie and Sam overall.
6. Unlike modern romance fiction—but very typical for chick lit—this book is written in the first-person point of view only of the heroine, Gracie, so we never truly get to know her romantic partner, Sam. If this book were advertised as chick lit, in which the focus is on a twenty-something heroine in a big city, with a great deal of time spent on the heroine’s clothing and makeup, frequent instances of heavy drinking, lots of scenes emphasizing the far greater significance to women of female relationships rather than seeking out romance with men, and the centrality of the heroine's developing much needed backbone and self esteem in a misogynistic society, it would have been a much more accurate and honest categorizing of this book. In that manner, potential readers who do not normally enjoy chick lit (such as myself), could make a clear-eyed decision about whether they want to read this particular chick-lit novel.
Overall, as a romance novel, I would only rate this book as 3 stars, at most. As chick lit, many who enjoy that genre would probably rate it as 4 stars. However, since this book is advertised as romance, I am rating it as a 3-star romance.