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A Type-A teen and a spontaneous royal outrun chaos in 'The Prince & The Apocalypse'

<em>The Prince & The Apocalypse</em> by Kara McDowell
Wednesday Books
The Prince & The Apocalypse by Kara McDowell

I have been in the darkest of moods this summer. I blame this ghastly heat. Amid all the broodiness I found The Prince & The Apocalypse by Kara McDowell, a tale of two teenagers trying to race across Europe while the world is ending. It was subversively morbid, and I found myself laughing out loud by Chapter 2.

Heroine Wren Wheeler is an 18-year-old American on a trip to London the summer after her senior year of high school. Wren was born to be a photographer, but she plans to attend law school like her perfect older sister. Wren is all about plans. She's determined to accomplish everything Brooke has, up to and including this trip.

But instead of being magical and life-changing, Wren's time in England goes from bad to worse. By the last day, she is homesick, physically sick, and more than ready to leave. She and her best friend have fallen out. Wren hasn't done anything on her extensive itinerary, so she vows to accomplish one last thing: breakfast at the World's End pub.

Of course, it's closed.

Wren borrows a lighter from the random guy standing next to her and burns her itinerary.

Only this guy isn't quite so random: He's the 19-year-old crown prince of this alternate universe England. He's escaped the palace, and the paparazzi are closing in. Quick-thinking Wren jumps in to help him evade them. Things escalate quickly — which turns out to be a good thing, because in eight days, a comet is going to hit the Earth and end all life as we know it.

If you're going to have a friend for the end of the world, why not a crown prince?

Due to the circumstances, Wren and Theo's friendship develops with a beautiful freedom. Decorum is deemed stupidly time-consuming, and every interaction becomes blunt and skip-to-the-end. Honesty reigns because it's easy and more efficient.

Wren is a meticulous overthinker. Theo is spontaneous. Their plan is to get to Santorini (via Paris and Milan) and fly Wren home.

But everything is chaos now that the world is ending. People around the planet are performing strange and lurid acts they never would have attempted before (and posting them on social media, of course). The Queen of England is offering a handsome reward for the safe return of her son. And every single plan Wren and Theo make fails in spectacular fashion.

The story is incredibly fast paced, and I giddily plowed through this series of misadventures across Europe involving planes, trains, automobiles and various other methods of transport. There's even a dog!

Meanwhile, Wren is candidly documenting the end of the world with her camera, or any camera, and woven throughout the story are ever-present philosophical questions: "What would you do if it was the end of the world?" and "Is it better to plan out everything, or just fly by the seat of your pants?"

There's something to be said for ticking off items on a bucket list, but there is also joy to be found in the journey that gets us there. The Prince & The Apocalypse is a reminder that true happiness isn't always found in the big things; there is delight to be had in the unexpected blips along the way.

So does Wren get back to America before the world ends? Does the world actually end? No spoilers. But I think readers will have a blast of a time before getting those answers.

Chaos, certain death, and a dash of sweet romance — this book was exactly the European summer vacation I needed.

Alethea Kontis is a storm chaser and award-winning author of more than 20 books for children and teens.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alethea Kontis
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