I just finished this Newbery Honor book, and I loved it. Shannon Hale has a way with characters, plot and words. I wrote about another of her books, Goose Girl, here.
Princess Academy is the story of a group of uneducated mountain girls who are chosen to attend the Princess Academy. One of the girls will be chosen to marry the Prince and become the new Princess of Danland. Miri, the central character of the novel, is not sure she even wants to become the princess, but she does want to learn and excel at the academy. And she does want to do something extraordinary to prove to her village and to her Pa that she is not useless even though she is not allowed to work in quarry with the rest of the villagers.
There are some fairy tale elements to this story, but mostly it’s a story about teenage girls thrown into a challenging situation, about they cope with adversity, about how they relate to one another, about their growth from children into adults. I looked immediately after I finished the book to see if Miri was on JKR’s list of Cool Girls of Children’s Literature. She was, of course. Miri is definitely “smart, brave, funny, and independent.’ However, she does have some growing up to do in this book, some decisions to make, and an important realization to attain.
Have all the girls in your life read this book. Some of the boys might enjoy it, too. Read it yourself for a dose of growing up realism in the midst of fairyland. I think this book should have won the Newbery Award instead of being a runner-up, but it wins my award for 2005 anyway.