Princess Academy: 06/29/11
Miri is small for her age. She lives with her family in a mountain community known for its special quarried stone. Life is a struggle and things are about to get worse as girls of a certain age are forced to go to the princess academy as the king's priests have divined that the newest queen will be living among them. That's the set up of Shannon Hale's Princess Academy.
While it may sound like a traditional set up for a fairy tale where the smallest, least useful member of a town goes off to charm the crown prince and become the next queen, it isn't. It's about the hardships of mountain life, about wanting to contribute to society, the frustration of not knowing the truth behind things and finally the power of education. What Miri and the other girls gain above and beyond the lessons in grace and polite society, is an education and most importantly, the ability to read.
Hale uses the seasons to show the mountain in all its forms and to create a believable sense of place. She also includes folk songs and stories to build an oral history that is later enhanced and challenged by what Miri and the others learn in their studies.
Although the book is set in only a small piece of the kingdom I came away with a sense of a much larger area. Shannon Hale excels at world building while keeping the story flowing and the characters developing.
I listened to the audio version of Princess Academy on our drive to Southern California earlier this year. I plan to go back and read the printed version later.