What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Shannon Hale's The Princess Academy is a moving coming-of age story about girls who are ordered to train for a year to become suitable marriage material for a prince intent on selecting a girl from their village to be his wife. With down-to earth protagonist Miri, it becomes a tale of girl empowerment and learning to look past the masks people wear. One evil bandit falls off a cliff after making threats.
What's the story?
Miri lives with her father and older sister in their high mountain village, where they quarry linder, a marble-like stone used for palaces in the lowlands. Unlike the other girls in the village, Miri has never been allowed in the quarry. She believes it's because she's too small and weak, and that the rest of the village must resent and despise her. But all of the foundations of her life are shaken when it's announced that the prince will choose a wife from among the girls of her village, and that all of the girls between ages 12 and 18 must leave their homes to be trained for a year before meeting the prince. They must go to a "Princess Academy" to be established three hours down the mountain.
At the Academy, though their tutor is strict and rather mean, Miri discovers that she enjoys learning, which comes in handy when the other girls ostracize her for getting them all punished. But she also begins learning things her tutor never intended: how to see beyond people's facades to their true characters, how to enable her village to rise from poverty, and how to develop the mysterious "quarry-speak" into a means of wordless communication. What she can't figure out, though, is whether or not she hopes to be chosen as the next princess.
Is it any good?
This surprisingly moving novel conveys a depth of understanding of people, and their often confusing and misleading ways of behaving. It's a coming-of-age novel of the best sort. Although there are hints of fantasy in the vaguely telepathic "quarry-speak" that the mountain-dwelling villagers take for granted, Miri is as real as can be, a down-to-earth heroine who succeeds despite insecurity and misunderstanding, through guts and hard work.
The story is filled with moments of great satisfaction: The girls finally stand up to their tutor who, it turns out, was just hoping for them to do so; Miri convinces the village elders to use the principles of commerce and diplomacy she has learned to improve their lot; and every time Miri sees past someone's facade and into their hearts. It's a lovely story, full of gentle wisdom and the joy of family and community.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about all of the characters who turn out not to be the way they seem. Why did each one act the way he or she did?
Why are princess stories so popular, even with modern readers?
Why do people hide their feelings behind anger and meanness?