Maeve Visser Knoth: Princess Academy

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Princess Academy

This morning I finished reading the 2006 Newbery Honor book Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. It is a lovely book. I was expecting that it would be since I very much liked her first two books The Goose Girl and Enna Burning. Each of the three books is set in a world I recognize from having read fairy tales all my life. This is a pre-technology, agraraian world. People live on small farms or in villages, they get around on horseback or in horse-drawn carts. People communicate from town to town using messengers. Cinderella would feel right at home in Shannon Hale's world.

The Goose Girl is in fact a full length novel based on a Grimm Brothers' fairy tale. Hale begins with a familiar tale develops it further by imagining the motivations and fleshing out characters. When Hale is finished, the story is something much more than a long fairy tale. It is a fully-realized world with a strong heroine at its center.

Enna Burning is the sequel to The Goose Girl and is equally readable. The plot is compelling and a bit less comfortable than in the first book. I never worried about the outcome of The Goose Girl but I was not sure where Hale was taking her reader in Enna Burning so it both more original and more disturbing.

Princess Academy has a lot in common with Hale's first two books. The world, as I mentioned, feels familiar. The heroine is strong and independent. Most striking, Hale gives her characters a gift, a power they must learn and control and eventually use for good. Miri learns to speak telepathically through the rocks of the mountain where she lives. This communication becomes important to the plot but it also links Miri to her people. When the novel opens Miri feels distant and lonely even though she lives with family. She does not know why, but she is not allowed to work in the quarries with the rest of her community. By the end of the novel Miri has learned the "quarry speak" and used it to save the community but she has found a place for herself in the community without entering the quarry to cut stone.

Miri is a strong female heroine, the kind I can happily introduce to both girls and boys. I will be curious to see how many boys are willing to read the novel- it does have such a girly title- but there are certainly elements of the story that boys will like. Hale writes beautifully, and a bit purposefully, about the power girls have within themselves to make change.

Miri would be right at home with Charlotte Doyle and Jane Peck. You can meet them in:

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Avi
Boston Jane: An Adventure Jennifer Holm


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