It’s a bit of a cheat starting with “Princess Academy” by Shannon Hale. It isn’t even a proper “Newbery Medal” book, having garnered “only” honors. But, as a reviewer who views “The Black Stallion” as the height and epiphany of Juvenile fiction, the “Princess Academy” is the perfect place to start. What better introduction to the Newbery Awards, than a book that manages to shatter any preconceived notions regarding Newberry books, and “princess school” books?
Having read numerous peasant-girl-goes-to-princess-school-and-becomes-somebody as an adolescent, I was fully prepared for what this book was going to offer me – in spite of the Newbery seal, a light-hearted read with some good laughs and delightfully precocious characters.
Not so much.
After yawning through the first pages, I settled into the book with a sigh – now I was remembering why I avoided medal-adorned books in school – they were slow. Get on with it!
The book starts as all good peasant-girl-to-riches-story do – the rural family does romantic things such as sleep on pallets, live without electricity, and skin little rabbits. Then (you guessed it) a royal decree is pronounced – all girls of the right age will be shipped off to princess academy where one will have the honor of being the prince’s wife.
Now, I’m sure you’re all rolling your eyes. But I can assure you; this is where the similarities between my pop fiction girl-turns-into-princess books, and this book end.
What grownup girl can’t relate to Mira and her struggles to define herself within her social group? Hale skillfully portrays the drama that occurs. She neither over-dramatizing the misunderstandings that often occur while adolescents struggle to define themselves, nor downplays the significance of such interactions.
I appreciated that Mira is not portrayed as a victim, even though she is in some angst over her situation both socially and within her family. In real life, people tend to make the best out of whatever situation they happen to be in and Mira is no exception.
I’m always impressed with a good author’s ability to end the story exactly where it needs to end. It seems like they pick the EXACT time the story being told has almost ended, and a new one has just began. I wonder – is the author ever tempted to write the story further? Are they ever curious about what happens next to their characters? Or are they content to leave it to their readers’ imaginations? If I’m ever to write a novel, this is a lesson I must learn – as one story ends, another begins, and without the end followed by a beginning, there is no ending.