The Prince and the Dressmaker

by Jen Wang
First sentence: “The prince is holding a ball!”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some more mature themes, and it’s in the teen graphic novel/graphic novel section of the bookstore, but I think if there was a 4/5th grader who was interested in the subject, they could certainly read it.

Frances is a dressmaker in Paris in around the turn of the 20th century. She works for a tailor, but has dreams of creating her own fashion line, if only she can meet the right people. When she designs a dress for a client for the prince’s ball celebrating his 16th birthday, it captures the attention of a mysterious patron. Frances jumps at the offer: it’s her chance to get noticed.

The mysterious patron turns out to be the prince himself, who has a secret he keeps from everyone except Frances: he likes to wear dresses and wants Frances to make it possible for him to go out in public. He becomes his alter-ego, Lady Crystallia, who, dressed in Frances’s creations, becomes the talk of the town. This, however creates a conflict: Frances wants credit for her designs, but Prince Sebastian is afraid of what his family and his people are going to think if they discover that he is Lady Crystallia.

I’m actually not sure if this fits under the LGBT umbrella, since Sebastian is actually attracted to Frances (I thought for a long time that he was gay, since he wasn’t interested in any of the girls that his parents were proposing he marry), but the ending is ambiguous (aside from a couple of kisses), so maybe it does? It does fall under the “let people be themselves” umbrella. Setting it in the late 19th century, Wang heightens society’s disapproval of someone breaking gender norms, which is really the point. Sebastian wants to wear dresses. Why should it matter who he is attracted to? Sebastian wants to wear dresses. Why should that affect how he relates to those around him or even, eventually, govern? Sebastian wants to wear dresses. Why should that make him less of a person? The ending is a bit too quick for me: initially everyone rejects Sebastian, but they come around pretty quickly (or maybe lots of time passed and I just missed it because it was a graphic novel)…

Wang’s art is charming, as always, and I found the book, overall, to be a delight to read.

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