(Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
When representatives of the king arrive in an isolated mountain village to announce that the priests have divined that the future princess will come from there, fourteen year-old Miri’s life is turned upside down, as are the lives of all of the other girls in the village. For now they must leave the village and join the isolated Princess Academy, a school specially created to turn the girls into potential princesses. In a year’s time, the prince will come up to the mountain and take his pick. Friends and foes are soon made as the girls struggle to cope with their new life away from the village, to learn and follow alien customs and to abide to the harsh rules of the Academy’s headmistress.
Princess Academy is a timeless tale of aspiration, heartache and hope and touches on many contemporary social and economic issues while remaining an exciting and accessible read for its target audience. The fairy-tale setting helps make this happen, but don’t be fooled, there is no air-head princess in this tale. On the contrary, Miri is an inspiring, strong-willed, brave and intelligent young heroine. She has always felt out of place, being the only child not working in the quarry and has always thought that other villagers found her weak and useless. However her thirst for achievement, knowledge and proving herself drive her to transform herself while she is in the Academy. I particularly like the fact the fact that for her, the prize is not to eventually become the Princess but to finish school at the top. How can one not be charmed by this book? It has so much going for it! The fact that Miri’s avid reading (which isn’t without struggle to begin with) is what the village from the burden of poverty offers a strong message about the power of literacy and the access to knowledge that comes with it. The situation that Miri’s community have purposely been kept in the dark as to the wealth that the stone could provide is one that could juxtaposed to many very real situations in this world, most of them we are quite clearly responsible for. These messages are vitally important, yet written in a subtle way within the storyline, and therefore Princess Academy remains at all times a very engaging and captivating read, with a bit of romance along the way too.
Princess Academy is a perfect book for discerning young readers who will enjoy both the fairy tale setting and more challenging themes.
The only downfall of this book is its cover: too pink! I fear it might discourage some young readers to pick it up, mistaking it for just another “girly” book. You can pop on to Shannon Hale’s blog here to have a look at a selection of international covers for Princess Academy (I much prefer the original US hardback cover). A sequel, titled Palace of Stone, is due out in the US in August.