After the debacle at Princess Gwendolyn’s (Sleeping Beauty) christening, the king and queen are determined to protect their next child, Princess Annie. A sole fairy bestows a gift on Annie—magic will have no effect on her. Despite their best efforts, Gwendoyln pricks her finger and everyone falls asleep—except for Annie. A palace guard, who is away during the incident, finds her in the woods and joins her.
Together they travel around to various kingdoms rounding up available princes in hopes that one of them will break the spell as Princess Gwendolyn’s true love. Unlike the other royal heirs, Annie does not have magical good looks and social gifts. As a result, the other royals shy away from her and even insult her ordinary appearance and talents. Gwendolyn’s famed great beauty though lures the princes to meet at the sleeping castle.
As they move from kingdom to kingdom, there are many adventures. They encounter other fairy tale characters, such as Hansel and Gretel, Beauty and the Beast, and a former frog prince. Annie ventures into a swamp to confront the evil fairy who cast the spell on her sister. Secrets and plots unfold as Annie learns more about her companion and a plan to steal her kingdom. Once all the princes are assembled at Gwendolyn’s chamber, one by one they kiss her until her true love is found.
Annie’s gift of resisting magic protects her from evil, allows her to see the superficial enchanted gifts, and equips her for the challenges of her journey. It also prompts her to find a man who adores and respects her true self.
The Wide-Awake Princess is an innovative retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story. The motifs of loyality, self-esteem, courage, and prejudice give the narrative depth and interest. Tweens and young teen girls (ages 10-14) will likely enjoy this book with its strong female lead character. Annie is determined and self-sufficient. She is not afraid of a challenge nor is she discouraged by obstacles or insults. Author E.D. Baker has written several other fairy tale retellings which I am interested in check out.
The one disturbing aspect of the book is the Rapunzel story. Though it is subtle, she is painted as a dirty prostitute. While Annie is trapped in Rapunzel’s tower, the bed is so filthy she refuses to sleep on it. Multiple suitors come for their weekly visits, including one who is married. This portrait is incongruent with the rest of the narrative and the target audience. Fortunately, it is only a minute part of the novel.