In February of 1963, Georgia adopts John F. Kennedy as her father, preferring an imaginary but warm relationship with him to the emotional void of her own parents. She has little interest in either studying or making friends at the American School she attends in Rio, but on holiday at the family's beach house, Georgia immediately connects with fellow misfit Tim, who calls himself the Sand Prince and tells Georgia she is his Sand Princess. Shortly thereafter, Georgia's parents split, and she and her mother return to the States, where Georgia is shipped off to the only boarding school that will accept her. Once a leader in progressive education, the Beard School now seems to be merely a repository for girls from wealthy families. Georgia's account of her virtual abandonment at school by her parents and her barely conscious search for a home is both poignant and gently funny. Georgia often hears the voice of the deceased founder of the school, Wilma Beard (who offers surprisingly practical advice). Moving between the tangible world and the one inside her head, Georgia fails to fully engage at school: "For a solid week there was a flurry of testing. It gradually dawned on me that the tests were related to midterm grades....I was shocked." But even as she drifts from the hard facts of reality-it is easier to say that her real father is dead than admit to his lack of interest in her-she looks through the false exteriors of people to see the truth behind them. When the chance comes to escape altogether by running away with the Sand Prince, Georgia chooses the real world at last, discovering that she's more at home at Beard than any other place she's been. The novel is well paced with moments of dramatic tensionas when Georgia is locked in the school's attic by jealous classmatesand is peopled with interesting characters, who are vividly revealed in Georgia's refreshing narrative.
A believable look at life in boarding school in the 1960s, made surreal by the narrator's fantasy that she is John F. Kennedy's daughter, and her conversations with the school's long-dead founder. Right before they separate, Georgia's mother and father take her on vacation to a resort not far from their home in Rio de Janeiro. Georgia, shy and confused, meets Tim, a sensitive boy who shares her interest in stamps and whose parents are just as screwed-up as hers are. Their idyll is short-lived; soon Georgia's father is in Rio with his girlfriend, her mother settles into Washington, D.C., and Georgia is off to Connecticut, to the only boarding school that will take her. As she retreats more and more into a fantasy that her real father is JFK, Georgia has trouble finding friends, doesn't like her teachers, and ends up with a terrible report card. In her head she talks to Mrs. Beard, the down-to-earth founder of the school, deceased but apparently still able to help Georgia out of a jam. Tim makes a reappearance; he's run away from a nearby boy's school, but now he seems more peculiar than poetic. He wants Georgia to run away with him, but she, learning of the uproar at the school in the early hours of her disappearance and reeling from the news that JFK has been assassinated, decides that the students and teachers are her real family and refuge. Gordon's title and the premise offer more to adults than young readers, who won't understand the romantic hold JFK had on the country; Georgia's fantasy never rises above the level of a silly conceit. Aspects of the setting, both in Brazil and Connecticut, are powerfully realized, as is Mrs. Beard: even dead and without a ghostly form, she may be the most compelling character on the scene.