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Little Willow

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Readergirlz Roundtable: The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti

Today's roundtable is devoted to the novel The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, which we'll be discussing throughout April at readergirlz and the readergirlz blog. Joining me for the roundtable are three readergirlz divas, Lorie Ann Grover, Melissa Walker, and Liz Gallagher, and two of my fellow postergirlz, Jackie and Shelf Elf.

Lorie Ann Grover: We are so happy that Deb Caletti has time this April to hang with rgz. The Secret Life of Prince Charming is a book that embodies what our community is all about: girls searching for truth within a powerful network of their own choosing, whether that be family, friends, or books. Each of Deb's characters will be a new rgz member whispering encouragements and offering guidance. Just listen as the divas and postergirlz chatter about this book...

Little Willow: Any thoughts on father-daughter relationships, be they personal or general?

Shelf Elf: Flaws and all, your dad's your dad.

Lorie Ann: Totally complicated and hangs with you your entire life! Like Quinn says on page 319 of the hardcover: "I still wanted him in my life, needed him, in the primal way you need food when you're hungry, or a hand in the darkness when you're scared. I felt a constant, low-flying desperation, the kind you feel when you are trying, trying, trying to get something you will never, ever get."

Melissa: I love that quote, Lorie Ann! It just made my heart pang again. Your dad teaches you how men value you, in a way. Luckily, my dad treated me like a smart, funny, pretty girl all my life, and so I've always demanded that from boyfriends too. Quinn has to find that validation elsewhere in the book -- luckily, she has some kick-ass female role models around.

Lorie Ann: Spot on, Melissa: "Your dad teaches you how men value you, in a way."

Little Willow: The main character of Secret Life is named Quinn. Do you think it suits her?

Lorie Ann: I loved that it's unique. I thought it was a great fit.

Little Willow: Me too, since I think it's gender neutral, and this book has a lot to say about gender roles and how you act with your parent that's your same gender, and how you act with the parent of the opposite gender. Do you think that Quinn is a boyish name or gender neutral?

Jackie: [The name] reminds me of the sister from Daria.

Shelf Elf: I immediately think Quinn Fabray - I'm a crazy Glee fan - so the name Quinn doesn't make me think boy. It makes me think more snooty, popular girl, which isn't Quinn in Deb's book at all.

Jackie: I so love Glee.

Lorie Ann: ME, TOO!

Liz Gallagher: I'm a third on loving Glee. But Quinn for me is the name of a bunch of kids who went to the school where I used to work. One girl Quinn and one boy Quinn stick out in my mind.

Little Willow: We ought to cast Dianna Agron (the actress who plays Quinn on Glee) in a film based on a Deb Caletti novel! Talking about this now, the name of Quinn makes me think of Jerry O'Connell's role on the TV show Sliders, but I never thought of that character while reading this book.

Melissa Walker: My main character in LOVESTRUCK SUMMER goes by Quinn, which is her middle name. I adore the name -- glad it's floating in the air these days!


Little Willow: Who was your favorite supporting character in Secret Life?

Jackie: I liked the half-sister, whose name I can't remember. I'm horrible with names.

Shelf Elf: Sprout! Charles [aka] Charlotte. I loved her.

Jackie: No, not Sprout. She was awesome, but the older one. Sprout was a full sister.

Shelf Elf: Whoops!

Little Willow: Frances Lee is the half-sister. The little sister, Sprout, stole every scene she was in. She was my favorite supporting character. I adored her from the moment she was introduced. I loved how each sister had a distinct voice and personality, and appreciated how differently they approached things.

Shelf Elf: Also Aunt Annie. She cracked me up.

Lorie Ann: Grandma!

Melissa: Another vote for Grandma -- I loved her secretive ways with the computer!

Liz: I thought Grandma was funny, and I liked the multi-generational feel (as is present in so much of Deb's work), but my favorite lines definitely came from Sprout, too. And I'm always a sucker for "a musician with integrity" -- so, Jake.

Little Willow: What was your favorite stolen item and/or retrieval scene?

Jackie: Easily the Big Boy statue. It reminded me of my hometown, and it was great for running jokes, which the book needed to offset the usually serious tone. I could picture the exploits well, and they always made me smile. (She smiles.)

Shelf Elf: I'm with you, Jackie. I could picture that statue hanging out in the back of their truck.

Melissa: Yes, the statue was the BEST.

Lorie Ann: Ab-so-lute-ly! He totally cracked me up. Just ran across a Big Boy this weekend and snapped a photo for our blog! (Click here to see the picture.)

Little Willow: If you hadn't read this book, and you saw a truck driving along which was hauling a Big Boy statue, what would you think? What would you do?

Lorie Ann: Follow it!

Liz: Dude. There is a consignment shop in Seattle that has a Bob in the window. Apparently, though, they refuse to sell it. I know because there's a guy who works at Gorditos who has a tattoo of Bob on his arm. When I asked if he'd the the one for sale, he said that people ask him that all the time, and that he's looked into it and it's not for sale. He's found some online, but they go for thousands and thousands of dollars. So selling the Bob might have been a better idea than returning him to the dad's lawn!

Little Willow: Why do you think their father stole these items from his ex-girlfriends and ex-wives? Do you think he felt it was totally justified for him to take them?

Shelf Elf: I really didn't like Quinn's dad. At all. I think he stole the objects so that he could feel in control, so that he could always feel like he was the one with the power in the relationship, even when it was over. Yuck. Now that I really think about it, he kind of disgusted me actually.

Lorie Ann: Here, here, Shelf Elf! He was grasping for power and control.

Liz: I wonder if a part of him was holding onto the women by holding onto their things.

Lorie Ann: True, Liz.

Little Willow: Do any of you have any items that have sentimental value that are precious to you but might seem silly or of no value or to a stranger?

Shelf Elf: One thing that comes to mind that is for sure silly is this hippo puppet I bought when my husband (then boyfriend) and I went to New York City together for the first time. It was the first trip we took together and we got the puppet at FAO Schwartz. Then we took it on the Staten Island Ferry and I have this picture of me and the puppet on the boat. People thought we were crazy (understandably) but we were laughing so hard. Good times. That hippo has sentimental value because it reminds me how we've always been good at creating fun together.

Lorie Ann: I have a pile of rocks on the mantel. They'd be overlooked, but they are from all over the world, from Barrow, Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Australia to England, Tibet to Miami, Florida.

Little Willow: If you could only show someone ONE item to represent yourself, what would you select and why?

Lorie Ann: I'd have to show a Bible. I believe everything is disciplined by theology.

Little Willow: It would be extremely difficult for me to select just one item to represent me. There are so many things I love to do, to discuss, to discover, and while I see connections between and betwixt all of them, I'm not sure what object would encapsulate all of them other than

Liz: It's not really an item, but I think I'd show someone my rose tattoo. I got it with my mom, she got one too, and they represent her and me -- her middle name's Rose, and the tattoos are roses. There's a little bud a an open rose. The idea of blooming is something that I think about often. Even though the rose is representative of my mom, it also has to do with the rest of my life -- my dad, too, and growing up.

Lorie Ann: So sweet, Liz. And LW, I'd say your Mary Janes...

Little Willow: I am a fan of my once-shiny black Mary Janes. They are older than Sprout!

Jackie: Caletti incorporated vignettes about relationships from the perspective of adult women. What did you think about these sections?

Shelf Elf: I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and there were a bunch of moments when the vignettes came on when I felt like I should pause and write down some of the words of wisdom.

Jackie: While I don't think they were necessary for the plot, they definitely gave an added richness to the story. The vignettes were some of the best writing in the novel, and certainly very moving.

Lorie Ann: These were the nuggets of truth whispered from one woman to the reader. Invaluable. "Listen," I told my daughters.

Melissa: Such great "I've been there" moments of wisdom -- those were little gems in the book!

Liz: I was surprised by how many times I found myself wanting to remember the advice. It's the same advice smart women have given me in my own life -- when love's right, it's right. And that sure does seem to be something that we girls and women can't be reminded of often enough.

Little Willow: What did this book have to say about family?

Shelf Elf: That for most people, family is far from perfect, and that sometimes it only gets more complicated the closer you look at it, and the more you delve into it. I liked that the book seemed to suggest that family can be about the people you choose to be with, those you have connections to, not strictly made up of those who you're related to by blood.

Little Willow: Indeed. There are family ties bound by blood (which we sometimes take for granted) as well as those we make.

Lorie Ann: Again, I have to agree with Shelf Elf. (smiles) I loved Quinn's search for family, groping and searching and clinging and finally redefining.

Little Willow: What did this book have to say about truth?

Lorie Ann: It is so hard to see truth, even when we know it full well, it's hard to look it in the face. But when we do, we are better for it.

Liz: Well said, LA. Bravery is closely related to admitting the truth.

Little Willow: What did you take away from this novel?

Jackie: You have to love yourself before you can recognize real love from someone else.

Shelf Elf: "There's nothing simple about love" and "Remember that you deserve someone who will love you well."

Lorie Ann: So many [things]! One is that we have the strength to face fathers. We have the strength, "to let a truth in, finally, finally, all the way, all the way, until it fills you with its own strength, with its own knowledge -- that love is light and not darkness, that love that is not good is not worthy of you, that love can only truly be given by those who are able, those with hearts of quality and with careful hands."

I love the declaration about ordinariness: "I am not the most, the best, the fastest, the greatest, but I am enough....Beautiful enough for the good people who really care about me."

And finally, about real love: You do not need protection from it. It is not about lies that someone else tells you or that you tell yourself, but about the truth. Real love is clear. It's...uncomplicated. When you find it, if you find it, pick it up. For all the right reasons, pick it up and hold it close."

Melissa: Quinn says it best, via Deb, via Lorie Ann! I also thought it was a great example of how we are not defined by other people or even our exterior selves. Quinn wants to see her own truth reflected in her father, but she can't find it there. So she has to find it inside herself--which is where we all eventually need to go for real approval and truth.

Lorie Ann: I have to send thanks to Deb for writing this gem of a book. I reach for it for my daughters, their friends, and myself. In the pages of The Secret Life of Prince Charming, I find wisdom, affirmation, and peace offered most beautifully by a beautiful woman. Thank you, Deb. xox

To learn more about Deb Caletti and The Secret Life of Prince Charming, read the April 2010 issue of readergirlz. After you've read the book, we hope you'll join the discussions and chats at the readergirlz blog!

Related posts here at Bildungsroman include:
Author Spotlight: Deb Caletti
Author Interview: Deb Caletti
Tags: book group, books, readergirlz, roundtables

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  • Red Hands by Christopher Golden

    A new Christopher Golden book is here, and I can't wait to get my hands on it! Here's the jacket flap summary for Red Hands: In bestselling author…

  • Annual Book Fair for Ballou High School

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