Shannon Hale is an author whose books I’ve wanted to revisit for the sake of potentially passing them on to my girls. Thus, it made sense for me to read (re-read?) Princess Academy for this month’s Newbery Through the Decades challenge. I believe I read it soon after it was published in 2005, but since those were gestating, breastfeeding, and sleep deprived years, I just can’t remember. I ended up both reading the book and listening to the audiobook while I walked because I always try to pack as much into every minute as I can. 😉 The book itself is a fun read, with a very likable heroine and the feeling of a fairy or folktale that I imagine many girls might enjoy. The heroine, Miri, is a small girl who lives in a mountain quarrying village. She has been forbidden to work in the quarry for some reason unbeknownst to her, and she longs to be a part of the quarrying community. Life changes when emissaries of the king show up in their village to corral all the village girls of marriageable age and take them to a school to be trained in the art and science of being a princess. It has been prophesied that the next princess will come from their village. While at the academy, Miri rises to new heights of leadership and finds that she has a bent toward study, and the lure of leaving the mountain and giving her papa and her sister a beautiful home entices her to dream of marrying the prince herself. There are all sorts of obstacles in the path of these mountain girls, not the least of which are their own prejudices and petty jealousies against each other. Miri discovers that these mountain girls are pretty powerful, though, thanks in part to a phenomenon known as “quarry speech,” a sort of mental telepathy that comes in handy when the girls are in threatening situations. There’s also a pretty big romantic element to this story, with Miri yearning for her childhood playmate, Peter, the handsomest young man in the village. The story ends well, with Miri discovering some important things about her past and the whole princess situation being resolved in a highly satisfying, if not the most likely, way.
I enjoyed this story, though I don’t think it is the best written of the Newberys I’ve read. Figurative language is something I’m always looking and listening for in what I read, and this one has a fair amount, but most of it is unremarkable–predictable, even. The audiobook helped move the story along for me when I couldn’t find time to read, but I prefer straight-up narration over dramatization, and this one is the latter. I found Miri’s voice rather annoying. By the end of the book I didn’t notice as much any more, but every once in a while I would cringe a little at it.
The bottom line here? If you’re looking for something that will wow you with the beauty of the writing, this one isn’t it. If you’re looking for a fun and engaging story, this one might be for you. (Scholastic, 2005)