By Mary Eisenhart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Brave kids, scary monsters, lessons galore in series debut.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Young readers will emerge from Pennyroyal Academy with an ample store of new, arcane words such as "berfrois" and "dernier cri."
Be true to yourself and who you really are instead of conforming to others' expectations while upholding your obligations to your loved ones. Also, strong messages about friendship, respect for differences, appreciation for everyone's talents, and learning to work as a team. The mantra "Courage, Compassion, Kindness and Discipline" is much repeated as the characters try to live up to it.
Positive Role Models
A few characters, especially the dragon family and the late King Callahan, are almost entirely positive and presented as loving, caring, and ready to put themselves in danger for their children. Some, too, are pure evil, but for the most part Evie and her classmates are more complex. Evie constantly struggles to find the right path as the conflict between the family she loves and the Academy takes an increasingly deadly turn. Another character agonizes about having sworn to kill an enemy he now realizes may not deserve it. While trying to live up to the Academy's principles of "Courage, Compassion, Kindness and Discipline," even the most well-meaning characters don't always behave well. Evie gets embroiled in a couple of physical fights with other girls in her class, with scratching and hair pulling.
Violence & Scariness
Younger or more sensitive readers may be disturbed by the abundance of dead, sometimes murdered, parents; one character's adoptive father has apparently killed her birth father, and another character is sworn to kill all dragons -- before he learns a friend came from a dragon family. Witches steal the hearts of their victims and turn them to stone. The knights and princesses are at war with the witches and dragons, so much of Pennyroyal's education focuses on military training. Some battles are training exercises, while others are true fights to the death. In one scene, princesses return, battered and bloody, from the front lines. In other scenes, students punch each other or get embroiled in scratching, hair-pulling, knock-down-drag-out brawls.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A boy kisses Evie against her will; later she and another boy, her love interest, share a kiss after many near-misses.
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British parents are forewarned that author Larson frequently uses expressions that seem innocuous in American English but offensive are in British English (think Austin Powers and "shag"). In this case, it's the oft-appearing "bloody," used more or less as convenient shorthand to a). define the setting and characters as British and b). coyly present an "acceptable" swear word.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Pennyroyal Academy, the first novel by prolific TV-cartoon writer M.A. Larson, best known for his work on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, was first envisioned as an animated series, and it shows. A good deal darker than My Little Pony, it retains a bit of cartoonish sensibility, from moments of pure slapstick to inexorable repetition of "courage, compassion, kindness, discipline." It offers plenty of uplifting themes, from living up to the mantra to being true to yourself and being part of a team. It also presents many scary scenes, as well as developing tension as a central character discovers that her birth and adoptive families are mortal enemies, and she sees her loved ones fall prey to their would-be killers in violent combat. There are mean girls, complete with fights that involve sympathetic characters; a character is kissed against her will and later kisses a boy she likes. Several characters use the word "bloody" with gusto, which probably will bother British parents more than American ones. Following the first year of a three-year Academy program, the book offers some appealing, conflicted characters and sets up a multi-volume story arc.
Where to Read
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What's the Story?
As the story opens, a girl who doesn't remember her name is wandering through an enchanted forest with trees trying to kill her. After a narrow escape, she reaches PENNYROYAL ACADEMY, where princesses in training learn not to become selfish divas but to practice courage, compassion, kindness, and discipline and battle evil forces side by side with knights. Soon dubbed "Evie" by her classmates, she struggles to survive a demanding program that emphasizes rigorous military training as well as fashion sense and noble character. Along the way, she discovers that the beloved family she's left is at the top of the Academy's enemies list.
Is It Any Good?
In his first departure from animation scripts, author M.A. Larson makes way, way too many trips to the office of clichés and central casting. Mysterious orphan swept off to magical academy, where weird, cranky, but lovable teachers prepare him/her for cosmic struggle -- we've seen this before and done better. Snobbery involving the purity of one's blood, ditto. Stock characters, from incognito royalty and plucky commoners to witches who live to destroy all happiness, are thick on the ground, as are repetitions of didactic points. Characters are fond of the expletive "bloody."
And yet there also are laugh-out-loud funny moments and heartfelt emotion. Some situations may be comically incongruous but lead to some interesting discussion. For example, Evie's classmate Basil, who against all odds is in training to become a princess -- because, after having 22 sons, his mom gave up trying for a girl and sent her youngest off to the Academy. As the school term ends, it's easy to care enough about several of the characters to want to know what happens next.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about why boarding schools (magic, military, and so on) are such popular settings for stories. What's the appeal? If you had a chance to go to any of the academies you've read about, which one would you pick?
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had absolutely no idea what was going on or how you were supposed to act? How did you feel? What did you do?
Some of the mean kids in this story have pretty horrible parents. Do you find it easier to understand someone's hurtful behavior if you know they're dealing with family issues or other problems?
- Author: M.A. Larson
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Friendship, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
- Publication date: October 7, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: October 18, 2017
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