Book Review: Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale (a Newbery Honor Book)

I’m in loooooooove.  That’s all I can figure.  Why else would I have stayed up until 2am to finish this book, tossed and turned, unable toprincess academy sleep, feverish thoughts of “if only I had enough money to buy the school 10 copies and give one to everyone I know!” in my over-tired head?  Why else would I have dreamed (when I was finally able to sleep) of the different characters in this book, longing to be the main character, Miri?  I am dopey-eyed, slack-jawed, gimme more gimme more gimme more in loooooooove with this book!

Princess Academy can most easily be described as a take on the “princess tale,” wherein it is possible for a common young woman to marry the prince. But it’s so much more than that. Young Miri is the diminutive heroine of the story, living a small, quiet life with her family and villagers atop Mount Eskel. The village mines the mountain quarries for blocks of linder, a valuable commodity for building in their country of Danland. A representative from the royal court – located in the “lowlands” – comes to tell the village that it has been determined the prince’s bride shall come from their tiny village. Since none of the young women can read or write or engage in things like Conversation, Poise, and Diplomacy, the court creates a Princess Academy, where the girls can study for one year and potentially catch the eye (and hand) of the Prince at the year-end ball.

The year at the Academy changes everyone, especially Miri (named after the miri flower that grows in the linder-filled mountains). She comes to the academy with fear and hope lodged in her heart. She has always felt useless in her village – too small to work the quarry, too small to be of any consequence. Could the Academy offer her a chance to be important? What if she were chosen as the princess? Ultimately Miri discovers in herself hidden talents and abilities, and with a generous spirit goes about helping others to do the same. Throughout the year at the school, all the girls grow strong, intelligent, independent. They examine their relationships with each other, with their families, with the mountain itself.

Author Hale leans on Scandinavian roots to create her community in the book. The look, the feel of the village is Scandinavian, even down to the use of names like Doter and Peder and Britta. There are some incredibly poignant scenes, one which made me tear up. There is humor and action and suspense. There is a sweet love story, with touches of passion and fluttering hearts. The mountain is a character as real as any human in this story. This isn’t really just a “princess tale.” It’s a tale of friendship and love, loyalty, courage, individual gifts, the value of education. I’d hate for anyone to look at the title and dismiss it as a fairy tale. I was thinking if I had chosen the title, it might be “Miri Blooms.” This book has certainly planted something very warm and whole in my own heart. Yes, I think I’m in love!

*Disclosure: Amazon affiliate link used.

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