Princess Academy is written by Shannon Hale. It was published in 2005 by Bloomsbury. Hale’s website can be found here.
“High on the slopes of rocky Mount Eskel, Miri’s family pounds a living from the stone of the mountain itself. But Miri’s life will change forever when word comes that her small village is the home of the future princess. All eligible girls must attend a makeshift academy to prepare for royal life. At the school, Miri finds herself confronting bitter competition among the girls and her own conflicted desires to be chosen. Yet when danger comes to the academy, it is Miri, named for a tiny mountain flower, who must find a way to save her classmates—and the future of their beloved village.”
This wasn’t nearly as The Selection-esque as I feared. The girls are really getting educated, something that wasn’t previously available to them, and it makes all of them better able to help their village. The focus of the story isn’t so much on the competition itself as on family and relationships. It’s quite a wonderful story about those two things, really. Miri is a delightful protagonist—quietly unsure of herself, yet not outwardly angsting over her insecurities. Since she doesn’t speak much of her inner feelings, a lot of misunderstanding goes on, which also highlights the importance of communication.
I loved the quarry-speak “magic.” I loved it when Olana is testing them and the girls keep giving each other the answers. Also, the best line in the book is: “These girls are creepy.” Yes. Yes, they are. Creepy awesome, that is.
Peder and Miri’s relationship was so cute. I admit, at one point I thought that Hale was going to go with the obvious “the winner will be the protagonist and she will get the prince” (ala The Selection), but she doesn’t. Like I said, this book is about family and relationships, not fighting for the prince.
The only quibble I have is that it was a trifle convenient with Britta’s situation. But again, the focus was more on Mount Eskel than the prince, and Britta just makes that focus stand out even more.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Be warned that you will not easily meet my expectations,” said Olana. “I have very real doubts that mountain girls are capable of measuring up to other Danlanders. Your brains are naturally smaller, I’ve heard. Perhaps due to the thin mountain air?”
Miri glowered. Even if Olana’s promises were true, Miri would not want to marry a lowlander, a person who despised her and the mountain. Prince or no, he would be like Olana, like Enrik and the traders, like the chief delegate frowning at the sight of the mountain folk and all too eager to get back into his carriage and drive away.
She rubbed her eyes, and the clay on her fingers got under her lids and made them sting. She was tired of lowlanders belittling her and tired of wondering if they were right. She was going to show Olana that she was as smart as any Danlander. She was going to be academy princess.
Miri sang the memory into the earth—the fly drumming on the window, Olana declaring the years, the class repeating. Perhaps Gerti had noticed the fly, too. Perhaps with that nudge, the memory would come forward for her and the sound of those years fall from her mind to her tongue. Miri’s vision shivered, her thoughts clicked, that moment painted itself in full color in her mind, but Gerti’s face did not change. Miri tried again, her quarry-speech song roaring inside her.
“If you haven’t remembered by now, Gerti, you won’t,” said Olana. “Now then, Liana, please name—”
“Two hundred and…” Gerti looked up. She appeared to be trying to taste something peculiar or identify a distant smell. “Two hundred and twelve to two hundred and, uh, seventy. Seventy-six, I mean, seventy-six.”
Princess Academy is not as much about the competition as I feared, but about family, relationships, and communication. It’s a delightful book with a delightful protagonist who both saves the day and helps her friends to save the day, too.
You can buy this here: Princess Academy