Book Review – Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath

  • Author: Jason Porath
  • Publisher: Dey Street Books
  • Publication Date: 25 October 2016
  • Pages: 384

It’s almost Halloween, which means that we’re reaching one of the “peak princess” points of the year. This Monday night, a plethora of sparkly pink princesses will parade down neighborhood streets in their annual search for tricks or treats. That is certainly not a bad thing, but some people may want another type of story at this time of year. Enter Rejected Princesses.

Who are the Rejected Princesses?:

What stories in history are least likely to become Disneyesque animated movies? That was the question that inspired author Jason Porath to start researching and collecting stories about women whose stories were too controversial, or too violent, or not flashy enough for one of those animated classics. Those women became part of a collection of “rejected princesses.”

Rejected Princesses coverThe book reviewed here is an anthology depicting the stories of one hundred women.The women in this book are predominantly from history, although there are a handful from legends that were just too interesting to leave by the wayside. They come from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds, and not all of them are heroic. All you have to do to be a rejected princess is to make history, and to be too complex for Disney to ever want to animate you (and be dead for 50+ years, but that’s a small detail). All of these stories are super fascinating and as varied as the women whose stories are being told. I learned about a lot of women whom I hadn’t heard of before, and I learned more about a few that I had known about before. For example, Florence Nightingale and Nellie Bly both appear in this book, but they share their stories with their primary rivals (Mary Seacole and Elizabeth Bisland, respectively), who provide more background and interesting contrasts to their better-known contemporaries.

Rejected Princesses was clearly written with a great deal of thought. Before you reach any of the tales in the book, there’s a page showing the reader content warning symbols. The tales put in the book are numbered 1 to 5, since the tales get gradually more mired in “adult” topics (the topic with the most stories is level 3). There are additional warnings for those topics: violence, abuse, sex, rape, and self-harm. In addition, the book itself is styled like a stereotypical fairy-tale book, which is also pretty cool. Each tale (a few tales have more than one woman starring) has an intricate picture depicting them in a scene, often with background elements that tell more of the star(s)’s story. Those illustrations often have art notes, although some of them had to be left out of the published work. The tales themselves acknowledge that history is often very messy, depending on accounts that can be flawed and biased. The author notes many times that he is not infallible either, since he didn’t study history in college and may not have an accurate sense of the full story. This adds an extra element to the stories for younger readers (more about them later): they can learn that history is malleable, instead of something set in stone according to a “dry history book.” Finally, there’s a bibliography at the end of the book if you want to do more research.

Anything Else Readers Need to Know?:

I have one caveat for parents already eager to get this book and read it to their child(ren): I would not read this book to a child. This book is not designed for children. Along with the above content warnings, the facetious style of writing and some of the jokes found in Rejected Princesses would fly over younger kids’ heads. The book’s website recommends that the book be targeted to people 12 and older, although a couple of the stories at the end of the book turned this reviewer’s stomach, and she’s already survived her teenage years. If you’ve got tweens/teens, stand by when they get to the end, because they might need you. If you’re an adult, don’t read the final stories in the middle of the night. Trust me. 

Favorite Stories From Each Section:

  • Level One: Alfhild
  • Level Two: Gracia Mendes Nasi
  • Level Three: Xtabay
  • Level Four: The Night Witches
  • Level Five: Artemisisa Gentileschi

If you want to learn more about rejected princesses, you can visit the Rejected Princesses website

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About the author

Siobhan Dempsey

Siobhan is a 24 year old MLIS student who prefers to read over socializing and is passionate about diversity and accessibility.

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