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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2018. $23.99 ages 12 and up

"When I saw you last night, something clicked. You really were Lady Crystallia! It was you, but you were more. Bigger. More amazing.  You were like a goddess version of yourself ... it was magic.

You know, I felt it, too! Something about wearing your dress transformed me. It's the first time I  felt worthy of this."

When Prince Sebastian meets Frances, he has no idea that his life is about to change. In a graphic novel, set in the late 19th century in Paris, and featuring a royal house, Jen Wang weaves a fascinating fairy tale that focuses on issues of identity, acceptance and prevailing tastes in fashion.

Frances, a young seamstress, is tasked with creating overnight a new dress for a spoiled and dismissive young society woman. It is to be worn at the Prince's birthday ball. The dress is both scandalous and much admired; the following day Frances is asked to act as a personal dressmaker for a mysterious client. She accepts and soon learns that her client is none other than Prince Sebastian himself, who loves to dress in women's clothing. Soon, society is swooning over the beautiful fashions being worn by Lady Crystallia, Prince Sebastian's alter ego. The two become fast friends, and Frances promises to keep his secret. Sebastian is in a constant state of worry that his parents, and any potential bride, might discover that he likes to dress as a woman. He is an honorable young man, and doesn't want any scandal to reflect on his parents' regal position. Nor does he want any young woman chosen for him (although he is still very young) to be embarrassed by his alter identity.

 “This is who I am. I’m a prince who likes to wear dresses.”

There is a hint of romance between the Frances and Sebastian, but the focus is mainly about their friendship. After meeting a long-admired fashion icon, Frances worries that she is not doing the work she is destined to do. She is suppressing her imagination and flare for design to Sebastian's needs, and not meeting her own. Although they bring out the best in each other, is it possible for the two to remain friends?

There is magic in Jen Wang's elegant, colored illustrations. The fashions are unique and gorgeous, there is movement evident on every page, and the facial expressions are perfection. It is a fairy tale meant for a contemporary audience, and works beautifully. Her storytelling is impeccable, allowing readers to smile, weep, gasp and thoroughly enjoy this very special graphic novel.

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