Monday, October 1, 2007

review: Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale

Literary academics love to debate definitions. When did the Victorian era of literature really start? To which nation should an ex patriot’s writing be accredited? What is young adult fiction? Stephenie Meyer, one of the most recently popular young adult authors, noted her opinion that young adult books merely have young adult protagonists, while adult books have adult protagonists. That may be true, but YA plots also usually involve some kind of bildungsroman.

Princess Academy is no exception. This Newberry Honor Book follows the coming-of-age of its protagonist, Miri, as well as several of her acquaintances. Motherless Miri lives on Mount Eskel in a small mining community quite separate from the rest of the kingdom of which it is a part, Danland. Though everyone in the village except the very young and the very old labor in the quarry, Miri’s father will not allow her to do so. This exclusion leaves Miri doubting her contribution and value to the small and indigent village.

One autumn day a royal messenger comes and announces that in one year, the prince of Danland would come to Mount Eskel to choose his princess from among the village girls. In the meantime, the village girls were to be sent to the Princess Academy to prepare themselves to be princesses.

The academy not only prepares the future princess for her duties, but it opens up a new world for the isolated mountain girls. Miri’s world is forever altered when she discovers words and finds her place in the village.

Miri is a lovable and believable protagonist with quirks and yearnings and intelligence. Shannon Hale’s prose does not call attention to itself. The book is quickly paced, and the resolution is somewhat surprising but foreseeable. In fact, some of the foreshadowing was, to me, a little too transparent. I knew in generalities how the book was going to end only a few chapters in, but the story was so good that I wanted to see how the characters arrived at that ending.

In the end, a reader does not need a precise category in which to place this book. A place on my bookshelf is good enough for me.

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