By Shannon Hale
Published by Bloomsbury in 2005
Many thanks to Samantha at Fabulous Fabris for recommending this book to me!
Miri lives with her family on the slopes of Mount Eskel in a remote part of the country Danland. Her father and sister, like the rest of the villagers, work in the quarry mining a stone called linder. When the Danlander priests declare that the country’s next princess will come from Mount Eskel, all of the eligible girls in the village are sent off to an academy to learn how to act like nobles.
Miri is a strong-minded young girl who doesn’t want to go to the Princess Academy at first. She’d much rather stay with her family and help in the quarry (though her father will never let her, for reasons unknown). Still, when the head of the academy declares that the best in the class will be declared Academy Princess and have the best chance of marrying the prince, Miri can’t help but dream of a better life for her family.
Princess Academy is less about getting to marry a prince, and more about the importance of family, community, and friendship. It’s also about the power of education. When the girls go to the academy, it’s not just their lives that improve; they also take the things they learn and use them to help improve the lives of everyone in their community.
This was a really refreshing read, and Miri is a character to be admired. She may not be physically strong, but she’s courageous and kind. She grows so much as a character during the course of the book, and really tries her best to help all the girls in her class, as well as the people in her village, regardless of how they treat her in return. Miri is able to recognize the good in everyone around her, and is also willing to forgive them their faults. I know Princess Academy is considered middle-grade fiction, but I’d love to see characters like her appear more in the young adult genre as well.
In addition to the characters, I also really enjoyed reading Shannon Hale’s writing. I thought she did a really wonderful job of setting every scene. Her descriptions of the mountain and nature were particularly good. For example (from page 113, at the start of Chapter 10):
“One more snowfall, then the clouds retreated higher than any mountain. Winter’s grip eased, and the sun seemed to lean in closer to Mount Eskel. It was painfully bright, the sky a hot blue. The hard crust of snow softened and patches of earth emerged, showing green things rising out of the mud and pushing up onto the hills. The smell of the wind changed—it felt thicker, richer, like the air around a cook pot. Spring was stretching on the mountain.”
With Hale’s writing, I could easily imagine every setting and scene, but I never felt bogged down by unnecessary details. That’s talent.
Princess Academy is a Newbery Honor Book, and it definitely earns that title. I’d recommend this if you like reading middle grade books, or if you’re looking for a gift for a young reader. While younger readers will adore this book—I wish it had been published when I was a kid—there’s something here for readers who like young adult books as well.
Read more about the book on Goodreads.