This reading group guide for The Runaway Princess includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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Amy Wilde, a young woman with a green thumb, lives in London with her socialite roommate, Jo de Vere. At one of the flamboyant cocktail parties that Jo frequently throws at their flat, Amy meets the tall, blond, and startlingly handsome Leo. They hit it off immediately. After a few romantic dates, Leo reveals that his real name is Leopold—Prince Leopold of Nirona, a wealthy European principality. A whirlwind engagement follows, but is quickly overshadowed by a scandal that makes Leo next in line for the throne—forcing Amy to decide whether or not royalty truly suits her. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Amy makes a distinction between growing up in “one of Yorkshire’s remotest villages” (6) and living in London. Discuss some of the things Amy thinks and feels about life in London because of her upbringing, and compare Amy’s sensibilities with Jo’s way of life. Is Amy insecure about or proud of her past?
2. Why do you think Amy doesn’t tell Jo about her time with Leo at their party? Do you think Amy would have gone out with Leo had she known he was a prince?
3. When Jo tells Amy a boyfriend would make her working life easier, Amy reacts strongly: “Are you suggesting that I need a boyfriend to pay my way
?” (48) Amy is proud of her ability to support herself without help from anyone. How does this change after she starts dating Leo? Compare their views and how issues occur in their relationship because of money. For example, how does Leo’s habit of using money to solve problems affect Amy’s opinion of him?
4. Amy has a habit of practicing for conversations aloud to herself while gardening. Reread one of these passages and discuss whether this habit is helpful for Amy. Is she able to use her practice dialogue when she finally talks to Leo? Can you relate to this habit at all? If so, discuss times when it has been beneficial for you to practice a conversation beforehand.
5. Jo and Amy immediately Google Leo once they find out he is a prince. Discuss the role of online media throughout the rest of the story. Find other passages where the media—whether its stories are true or false—provokes or triggers something to happen. How does the public invade the private, and how does this affect the characters’ lives?
6. During Amy’s first foray into Leo’s world, at the Royal Opera House fundraiser, she ends up running away during intermission because a girlfriend of Rolf’s accosts her in the bathroom. (160–162) Discuss whether you think Amy’s disappearance was the best way to handle the situation. How would you have reacted if you had been in Amy’s position?
7. Throughout the novel, Amy’s sister, Kelly, has a ghostlike presence; Amy thinks about her and what happened, but doesn’t share the full story until close to the end. How did this ongoing mystery affect your reading of the novel? Did you have any predictions about what happened, or at what point Kelly would reenter Amy’s life?
8. Consider the significance of place in the novel. For example, Amy’s parents had to sell their first house due to Kelly’s disgrace, and Amy harbors a sad connection to the old house. How does the new house represent their new family life? Discuss other places in the story and the characters’ connections to them—Leominster Place, the Nirona palace, Leo’s inherited town house in London—in your response.
9. A main issue in the Wolfsburg family is the line of succession. Minutes before dying, Leo’s grandfather (Sovereign Prince Wilhelm) decides that Boris will be the next crown prince, not his twin, Pavlos. Meanwhile, Sofia feels cheated because women are still passed over in the succession. Discuss the politics of succession in the novel. Why does Prince Wilhelm give the crown to Boris over Pavlos at the last minute? Do you think Sofia’s anger is justified?
10. As soon as Leo becomes heir to the crown, Amy gets more and more wrapped up in the royal world and she is put under a huge magnifying glass—not only by Leo’s family, but also by the media. Sofia arrives to “begin the princessing process” (272) on Amy. What does this process entail? How does Amy handle the demands asked of her? Is she happy with the changes? Do you think becoming a public royal figure warrants a complete makeover for someone like Amy?
11. When Amy’s Palace View bee conservation project conflicts with Leo’s plans, Amy says, “I’m just normal, Leo. I’m a completely normal girl. And I’m trying to meet you in the middle, but my middle’s miles away from yours.” (291) How do Amy and Leo find a happy medium between royalty and normalcy? Discuss how well you think Leo can understand Amy’s “normal,” and vice versa.
12. Amy has a close relationship with her parents. How does she try to help and protect them (especially her mother) as they get pulled into the public eye?
13. How do the other characters react to Amy’s new position in the world? Consider her parents, Jo, Ted, Dickon, Mrs. Mainwaring, Jennifer Wainwright, and Kelly (aka Callie Hamilton).
14. Why does Sofia purposely sabotage Amy? Reflect on the official photograph shoot and the grace at the Crown Princess Ball. Do you think Leo and his family put too much pressure on Amy to perform publicly? Or do you agree it is a necessary part of royal life?
15. When Amy tells Leo she cannot marry him, she uses his private garden as a metaphor. She says, “[T]his place is you. It’s elegant and measured, and every bed blooms at the right time because someone’s planned the flowering seasons. It’s lovely, but I couldn’t live in it.” (420) How does this garden metaphor illustrate Amy and Leo’s relationship? Why does Amy feel that wildflower meadows are a better fit for her? Enhance Your Book Club
1. Visit www.bbc.co.uk/history/royal_weddings to learn more about the history of royal weddings. Compare these real couples’ stories with Amy and Leo’s courtship. Can you find any similarities? Differences?
2. The story is written entirely from Amy’s perspective. Have each member in your book club select a scene and imagine it from Leo’s perspective. How would he see the situation differently than Amy does?
3. Test your own green thumb and plan a garden-planting party with your book club! Gather seeds for your favorite flowers and potting soil and spend the afternoon getting your hands dirty.
4. Imagine you’ve just got engaged to Prince Harry. What would the press dig up about you and your family? And how would you spin it into a positive story?
5. Would the glamour and prestige of royal life outweigh the duty and scrutiny for you? What would be the best and the worst aspects of a public life like Leo and Amy’s?