by Helga Zeiner
Publisher: POW WOW Books
Released: May/ June 2013
Genre: Fiction- Adult: Psychological Thriller
How I got it: Received a copy from the author
Almost from age one, Tiara has been a star of the American Child Beauty Circuit. When she grows too old to win anymore, her mother leaves Texas and returns to Vancouver. Tiara is twelve years old, she refuses to attend school or interact with other children, becoming more and more reclusive. Her relationship with her mother deteriorates and they become estranged.
One morning, three years later, Tiara’s mother is shocked to find her daughter the subject of a big story on the morning news. A violent assault has just occurred at a local coffee shop and it seems Tiara is the perpetrator. The brutal and seemingly unprovoked assault lands her in the Burnaby Secure Youth Centre for a court ordered psychological assessment.
When the police investigate the incident they begin to slowly unravel her confused and dark childhood. They discover her history as a child beauty queen star, managed by her mother and aunt while living in Texas. It also becomes increasingly apparent that explicit photos of Tiara were taken and posted to many internet sites The photos seem to capture Tiara over many years and lead the detectives to wonder whether she is the victim rather than the perpetrator.
Tiara herself cannot provide any insight. She has buried the memories of her childhood deep in her sub-consciousness, and even if she could remember, she is deeply traumatized and unresponsive. Any attempts by the authorities to probe result in more withdrawal and unexplained expressions of grief and anger.
Carefully guided by the adolescent forensic psychiatrist in charge at the Secure Youth Centre, she begins to write a journal, anchoring her memories on her birthdays as she remembers them. At the same time, her mother tries to explain the past from her own perspective, insisting she only wanted the best for her daughter and refusing to acknowledge any responsibility at all for what Tiara has experienced. It becomes very obvious that Tiara has been greatly damaged by her childhood.
Slowly the two story-lines merge until they arrive at the moment when mother and daughter recall the trauma that eventually leads to the attack. Tiara begins to understand the horrific nature of her abnormal childhood. She allows the psychiatrist to read the notes in her journal, subconsciously guiding him toward the truth.
But the truth is not clear cut. Tiara is guilty of aggravated assault. Even the detectives can't find motive to explain her action, which means the judicial system has no choice but to keep her locked up as a dangerous juvenile criminal. Tiara remembers much of her past but she has no idea why she stabbed a strange woman in a coffee shop. Her mental isolation doesn't allow her to confront this important question. Only the psychiatrist, with the assistance of the detectives who keep digging in the past, might be able to unlock the secret buried in her soul.
And they are successful, but in a way they never expected. When Tia remembers all that had happened and what had motivated her to attack another human being, the final answer, the solution to the puzzle, surprises them all.
Review: This is not a book I would usually choose to read, it's much more in-depth than I thought it would be. I found myself forced to skim several sections of the book because it became to much for me to read. For me Birthdays of a Princess was like a train wreck, heartbreaking yet something you are unable to not look at.
Tiara tugged at my heart strings, she was so fragile. Even when she was being stubborn she carried an air of being broken. Her vulnerability pulled me to the story even more, making it hard to just stop read, yeah I get that might be weird but it's true. Her mother irritated me to no end, with her whining, pity me, and blaming everyone but herself crap. I never got a good fix on the detectives, I kept mixing them up. For the whole book I was never sure which was which.
Despite not wanting to I found myself engaged in this book. I became invested in what was and what had happened to Tiara, her story pulling me in. Although I found myself skipping over many of the harder to swallow parts of the book. I have to admit several parts I found utterly disturbing. I had to read in small portions switching to other books when this became to much. It is a very intense read and I wouldn't advisory for the faint of heart. A couple times I considered stopping yet I had to finish because I wanted to know if Tiaras tormentors got what they deserved. I was a little disappointed with the ending, mainly because I knew what was going to happen. I would have liked a twist, or something.
I'm on the fence about how to rate this book, the plot was engaging and the characters well written, yet the content is a bit racy.