It’s About: Fourteen-year-old Miri lives in a mountain village, where the community works together quarrying stone. Word arrives on Mount Eskel that the prince will choose his future bride from among the eligible daughters of Miri’s village, but the girls have only one year to prepare themselves for proper princess etiquette and so must attend a princess academy, whose purpose is to qualify them to meet the prince.
Miri attends the academy and learns to read, to write, to dance, to converse pleasantly, to negotiate terms, and the laws of commerce. A year of book learning opens up worlds of possibilities for Miri, who longs to understand her significance in her family, in her village, and with herself.
I Thought: I was initially worried that this would be yet another rags-to-riches story of a poor mountain girl whose Prince Charming arrives to save her from her life of drudgery and whisks her away to his happily-ever-after, the end. But it’s NOT! Instead, author Shannon Hale creates a cast of lovely individual girls, each with unique personalities and attributes that endear them to us for different reasons. Friendships are nicely developed and accurate portrayals of typical tween girls and their likes and dislikes read easily. Through the girls’ eyes we question the idea or notion of being a princess at all. We wonder together if we even want to be chosen by the prince. We learn through our questioning what home and family really mean, why having true friends is important and how to treat one another with kindness, why thinking for ourselves is a quality to be developed, and most of all – that if you choose to be in a relationship with someone it’s just that: your choice. And the best sort of relationship that has lasting power and love is not one that happens “at first sight,” but rather one that is built on a solid foundation of friendship developed over time.
Verdict: My daughter has enjoyed the collective work of author Shannon Hale, but this was my first introduction. I listened to the audio version of the book and think I would have preferred to read it (I didn’t care for the studio cast), but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story immensely. I was more caught up than I thought, and was pleased with the unexpected twists and turns the story took just when I thought I knew where it would go next.
I really appreciated this realistic approach to life, relationships, and self. The protagonist Miri is strong-willed, determined and spunky. And I like her. I like her personal growth most of all and believe young female readers will find qualities and character traits to which they will relate in her, and they will champion her choices, her triumphs, and her failures, as well.
Reading Recommendation: Borrow this one from a friend or from the library and enjoy your studies in the Princess Academy!