“I’m only seventeen. Sometimes that feels too young to have lived the life I have. Sometimes I look around at my surroundings and think, I don’t belong here.”
Paper Princess had been stalking me for many months. It felt like almost all of my Goodreads friends had read, devoured, and fallen in love with this novel and the subsequent series. This book was recommended to me by several people, so I went out and borrowed it immediately. What followed was two days of confusion, occasional interest, boredom and antagonism.
The novel follows Ella Harper, who has spent her entire life flitting from town to town with her unreliable mother. Struggling to make ends meet, and determined to climb out of the gutter, Ella is fiercely resolute and wants nothing more than to make something of herself, especially after the death of her mother. But then Callum Royal appears, a man who says he was best friends with her unknown, and now late, father. Ella is then plucked from poverty and strip clubs and sent to live with Callum in his remarkable mansion. Callum promises to see her through to college and pay for anything she wants or desires, if only she will live with him and allow him to care for her. This should be a dream come true for Ella; the only problem is Callum’s five sons, who all hate Ella the second she walks through the door. Each Royal boy tries to make her life a living hell, but Ella can’t help but feel drawn to one of them: Reed Royal, who is determined to send her back to the streets where she belongs.
This will never by my home. I don’t belong in splendour. I belong in squalor. That’s what I know. It’s what I’m comfortable with, because squalor doesn’t lie to you. It’s not wrapped in a pretty package. It is what it is.
I don’t often read romance novels, but last year I fell in love with Colleen Hoover’s contemporary romances and wanted to further expand into this genre. I picked up Paper Princess, because the novel had been generating a lot of press for months. Admittedly, I enjoyed the first few chapters of the novel. Ella was a captivating protagonist whose survival instincts were impressive. When we first met Ella, she was stripping, despite the fact that she was underage, because she needed the money. Obviously, I don’t condone this, but it was interesting to see a main character have such a pragmatic and slightly pessimistic view of the world. She does what needs to be done.
But then, Ella moved into the Royal Mansion and the intriguing, unique independent was suddenly reduced to a lovesick, heart-on-her-sleeve dupe. She was introduced to the five Royal Boys – all of who hated her with a passion – and quickly fell in love with Reed, the brother who seemed to despise her the most. I usually adore enemies-to-lovers stories, but here there was absolutely no chemistry and scarcely any development between the love interests. I honestly could not comprehend why Ella was attracted to Reed: perhaps it was the blatant sexism that he constantly spouted, or the fact that he told his brothers not to have sex with her because she was probably diseased. I know I can’t help but fall in love with a guy when he calls me a slut to my face.
“You should know whatever game you’re playing, you can’t win. Not against all of us. If you leave now, you won’t be hurt. If you stay, we’ll break you so bad that you’ll be crawling away.”
Reed was a contradiction – so much so, that if you look up the definition of contradiction in the dictionary, you will see Reed Royal’s name there. He continually stated how much he hated Ella and wanted her to stay away from his brothers, but then told her: “If I have to fuck you so you don’t ruin my family, I’ll do it.”
What? WHAT?? Not only does that make zero sense, he basically told her he would assault her. I feel like the authors attempted to purposely make the reader dislike Reed at the beginning of the novel, but then as Ella fell for him, we would too, but with scenes such as this, that did not happen. At all.
Reed wasn’t even the worst brother. There was Easton, who groped himself in front of Ella and insinuated that he would force himself on her; then there were the twins, who swapped identities so they could each sleep with one of their girlfriends, without her knowledge. The boys were just as bad as their father, who encouraged their bad behaviour by providing a ridiculous amount of money and never punishing them if they did anything wrong. Easton had a genuine gambling and drug addiction, but his father was oblivious and only concerned himself with his mistress, whom he treated like an actual piece of meat and kicked her out of the house when she wanted to take their relationship further. Gee, I wonder why his sons turned out to be such assholes.
“You’re too much, Easton.”
“I am.” He nods solemnly. “It’s why I sleep around. Because no one girl can handle all of me.”
It honestly feels as though the authors wrote down their most titillating fantasies and tried to write a book about them, but failed. Like, five guys? Ella just had to have five guys falling over her and have sexual tension with. Are they overcompensating for something?
Excluding the abusive and problematic male characters, the novel had absolutely no plot. It was literally just Ella moving into the Royal mansion and trying to befriend the brothers while they made her exceedingly uncomfortable by talking about blowjobs in front of her, and refusing to believe she was a virgin. Which brings me to my biggest peeve: the fact that the female protagonist always has to be this untouched and pure virgin while her love interest has so much experience. And then Reed made fun of her for it! I can’t deal.
The strong Ella at the beginning of the novel had been stabbed, stomped on and burned to death: in her place, was a submissive and, frankly, pathetic child. I could no longer connect with her and just wanted to yell at her for not standing up for herself – not once in the entire novel. She was such a disappointing female character, especially because teenage girls might read this novel and accept the way the male characters treat women as normal behaviour. FYI, it’s not.
Something about [Reed]…he issues a command and I obey. I fight it at first, sure. I always fight, but he always wins.
Paper Princess had so much potential and it truly astounds me that a YA novel written by two women could pen such sexism and obvious abuse. I never tell people to not read a specific book, but I really don’t want people to even touch this novel. It will only make you angry.