Goodreads: Princess Academy
Series: Princess Academy #1
Summary: Miri lives on a remote mountain where the families trade the stone they quarry for food. Then one day, a messenger from the king arrives to announce that the priests in the capital have foretold the next princess will come from the territory of Mount Eskel. All the eligible young girls are sent to an academy where they learn and compete to be the most like a princess. At the end of their training, they will host a ball for the prince and he will choose his future bride.
Review: Princess Academy is a delightful book full of adventure and family, not at all the glittery and girly read the title can suggest. Miri is a spunky but lonely mountain girl who is in love with her home on Mount Eskel, even if the work in the quarry can be hard on all the villagers and the winters there are long and cold. She finds value in the uniqueness of the mountain, its beauty, and the community it inspires among those who live there. Even when the chance of becoming a princess with beautiful clothes and a big home in the green lowlands arises, Miri remembers what makes her and Mount Eskel special.
Princess Academy is almost unique in that it places value on a variety of talents and characteristics. It is not more important to be a princess than it is to be a goat herd, and it does not make one better to be book smart instead of wise in the ways of quarrying. Learning is presented as being important and a great way to open life opportunities, but doing any job well makes a person special. It is also clear that everyone, whether in the scheme of the academy, the village, or the whole kingdom, has a role to play, and that every role is essential to helping things run as best as they can. None of these “lessons” come across as preachy or forced, however. They are simply built into the story and Miri’s own thought processes, and they make the reader feel as if she must be important somehow, too.
Hale’s management of the romance is equally as beautiful. Miri fluctuates between dreaming that the prince will fall in love with her and wondering why she would want to marry someone that she barely knows. There is also a boy at home who has recently caught her interest, so should she dream of the prince or of him? This is no annoying love triangle, and everything turns out quite perfectly. There is the sense everyone ends up where they belong, not that the author has contrived a bunch of pairings.
The focus is not really on romantic relationships, however, but on friendships and families. Miri is very close to her sister and her father, but sometimes feels a bit left out. She wonders how she can fix that. She also feels alone, and there are other girls who are something like social outcasts, as well—something authors often fail to imagine in a community so small. The way the villagers all come together as families, friends, and sometimes couples is very inspiring.
Hale has written a wholesome book for girls full of adventure, thoughtful questions, beautiful friendships, and just the right amounts of magic and romance. The characters grow through their time at the academy, and readers will grow with them as they ponder what it means to truly to be happy and a good person.
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