Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review: Princess Academy

Star Rating 4/5

Princess Academy

By Shannon Hale

Though she has always lived on Mount Eskel, Miri is not like the other mountain girls. She is small and fragile like the flower she was named after. Each day while all the other members of the village work in the quarry, except those who are too young or too old, Miri watches her family’s goats. Her father won’t allow her to work in the quarry with the others. Unable to contribute in the same way as the others, Miri fears she is worthless and wonders whether her father even loves her. Daily she dreams of cutting out linder blocks and using quarry-speech with the others. Even her childhood friend Peder has started to work with the others, leaving Miri alone with the goats.

Miri’s life quickly changes, however, when word from the king comes to the mountain. The priests have decreed that the prince’s bride will be chosen from the girls of Mount Eskel in the summer. Within days of the announcement, all the girls younger than the prince are escorted from their homes to the princess academy. Suddenly Miri’s dreams of working in the quarry and talking to Peder are nearly pushed aside by new ones. Dreams of becoming a princess and giving her family a grand home in the lowlands fill her thoughts. Unfortunately, Miri’s excitement is short-lived when her attempt to help a friend costs all the girls their opportunity to visit their families before winter sets in. Not only are the girls angry with her, but the academy’s tutor also punishes her severely, making her feel more insignificant and stupid. Can Miri find favor in the eyes of her tutor and classmates and perhaps the prince as well? Will she be able to go to the lowlands after all? But then again, does she really want to leave her village in Mount Eskel, Peder, and all she’s ever known?

Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy is more than a coming-of-age novel. Miri’s story teaches lessons children need to learn and adults need to remember. Not only does Miri mature, becoming more aware of herself and her abilities, throughout the course of the novel, but she also begins to recognize the situations of those around her and realize her own limited perspective. At the start of the novel, she, like most of us, only sees things from a very egocentric point of view. While she does not understand why things are the way they are, she does not question them or her own perceptions. At the academy Miri is forced to look beyond her beliefs and ideas and in turn begins to understand her potential. Miri’s experience is no bed of roses, however, which is due in part to her situation and in part to her character. Her idiosyncrasies and personality make her time at the academy difficult, but they also create a more realistic and engaging heroine. Miri struggles to find acceptance, to persevere despite isolation and disdain, and to discover her personal desires and strengths. As Miri works through each obstacle she faces, she becomes a valuable friend and a contributing member of her village. She learns that she is more important than she ever realized and that she can make a difference whether or not she is chosen to be the princess. Miri is an excellent role model for each of us, especially for young girls, as she learns there is more to life than being a princess.

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