Review Blog

Jul 31 2013

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2013. ISBN 9781408836804.
(Age: 9-13) Highly recommended. Reprint of a Newbery Honor book, (2006). Miri lives on a mountain where stone is quarried and life is simple but hard. Then news arrives that the prince of the kingdom will choose his bride from their small village and everything changes. The king's advisors set up an Academy to train all the teenage girls in the proper ways for a princess to behave. Miri finds herself faced with a harsh Academy mistress and jealousy and competition from the other girls. She is also conflicted about her childhood friend and the thought of being a princess. When bandits try to kidnap the girls to hold the future princess, Miri rallies them together and makes use of a strange power that is unique to the mountain dwellers.
This is a classic example of the old saying 'Don't judge a book by its cover' being true. The attractive pink cover is sure to appeal to girls, but there is nothing soft or sweet inside. Life on the mountain is harsh. Everyone must work in the quarries and there is no school for the children. Traders pay little for the beautiful stone and the villagers often go hungry. Life at the Academy is harsh as well as the mistress looks down on the girls and treats them cruelly, but it is here that Miri learns to read and finds out about life away from her village. She is a strong, intelligent girl who uses her education to help her village and her intelligence to work out how to overcome the bandits.
This is a beautifully told story that has an engrossing plot and a clever resolution to the problem of which of the girls would be chosen to become the princess. Its themes of the importance of friendship, family, education and ways to use knowledge about economics are integral to the story but are so subtle that the reader is not aware of them until reflecting on what has happened.
Hale is a very clever author whose carefully crafted prose makes this story a pleasure to read and one that would make an ideal literature circle or class novel.
Pat Pledger

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