Title: Princess Academy
Author: Shannon Hale
Format: Paperback (Other formats available)
Number of Pages: 314
Summary: Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king’s priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year’s time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king’s ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.
Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.
Author Bio: Shannon Hale is the author of five award-winning young adult novels, including the bestselling Newbery Honor book Princess Academy. Austenland was her first book for adults. She and her husband are co-writing a series of graphic novels, and live with their two small children in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I really enjoyed Shannon Hale’s tale of a young girl trained to become a princess. Miri is a likable heroine, and her conflicted desires ring true for a girl her age. She loves her mountain village, her family–and is starting to have strange feelings for a boy she’s known since childhood. At first she can’t imagine ever leaving them. But the lure of wealth, power, and adventure offered along with the title of Princess is awfully tempting; even if it means marriage to a Prince she’s never met, and may not even ultimately like. The only requirement on her part is a full year of training. At first, Miri doesn’t see the value in learning to read, or of practicing Conversation, or memorizing the rules of Diplomacy. However, the moment she discovers that the letters she’s tracing in her clay tablet are connected to words that make up wonderful stories–and illuminating facts in Tutor Olana’s books–she becomes eager to learn more. True to a teenage girl, though, what really spurs Miri to compete for the title of Academy Princess–the top scholar in the class–is the beautiful gown promised the winner, along with the knowledge that her father and sister could also live a life of ease if the Price should choose her as his bride.
Education transforms Miri from a bright, curious, yet ignorant mountain girl into a valuable asset to her classmates, her family, and ultimately, her village. As the daughter of a former teacher, I truly appreciated the theme of how education–and knowledge–elevates the status and abilities of those in society, and how it can be used to right injustices. The side story of the bandits attacking the academy was just another way for Miri to show her bravery, ingenuity, and resourcefulness.
I give it four stars instead of five only because there were a few quibbles I had with the plotline. Nothing major, but I did wonder about a few points. For instance, it’s stated that in years past, the Princess Academy was nothing more than a few days of society for girls already of noble birth. This time, since the girls are nothing more than uneducated mountain girls, a year’s worth of training is needed. Quite understandable. Why, then, considering that one of these girls will someday be Princess (and eventually Queen), are the girls made to do household chores? They themselves don’t find it unusual; they did much harder work in their lives back home, but it just struck me as odd. The only adults at the academy are a cook, a tutor, and a couple soldiers for protection. I expected there to be maids and such to cater to the girls, for them to be given new clothing, for them to be at least somewhat pampered. None of that was the case.
In addition, Tutor Olana treats the girls harshly, and seems uninterested in helping those struggling with their studies. Again, one of these girls will be Princess and will have immense power over Olana afterwards, so her behavior towards them seemed unrealistic. However, the girls finally realize the unique situation they have and politely but firmly strike a deal with Olana that is satisfactory for all.
One method Miri uses to aid those around her is a sort of telepathic capability to communicate; a practice the stone-cutter villagers have long had. Miri is able to refine and almost perfect this skill. Some might find this theme troublesome. I would have preferred Miri’s talents to be solely related to her cleverness myself. However, since the author chose this path, I had a few quibbles as to how it was applied. For instance, all the girls at the academy have the ability to "quarry-speak", yet when their need is dire, Miri is the only one who uses it to call for help. It seemed to me that if all the girls had joined in with Miri’s efforts, their pleas for aid would have had a better chance of being heard.
Despite my quibbles, however, I will gladly give this book to my 10 year old niece for her birthday. I’m pairing it with the classic, A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, another tale of a girl suffering under the harsh treatment of a headmistress.
Disclaimer: I bought Princess Academy for my niece’s 10th birthday and had to read it first to make sure it was approriate for her. My reviews are not influenced by receiving free review copies, nor am I compensated any other way for reviewing books. I may provide affiliate links where books can be purchased, but I do this of my own volition.