Saturday, August 13, 2016

princess academy: stardust reviews

Princess Academy (Princess Academy #1)
Shannon Hale



Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village.

The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess. Soon Miri finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires.

Full review of this wonderful story under the cut!

 When I talk to people about this book, I tell them that Princess Academy (and Shannon Hale's other masterpiece, IMO, The Goose Girl) is the book that changed my life. Not being dramatic, and not overstating this book's importance. When I first read this one, I was so completely caught up in its magic, and I have very rarely felt captured, to that extent, with any other book. And so, even though I have read this book countless times, I thought that I would write a little something about it now, following my most recent reread, to tell you how special it is and maybe persuade a few of you to give this one a try!

Okay, so yes, this is a middle grade book. The protag is 14 at the beginning, though it takes place over the course of about a year and a half to two years. And it is pretty short. It took me, as a pretty fast reader, only about four hours to finish. But these facts add to, rather than subtract from, the overall beauty of this book. Above all, Princess Academy is a high fantasy novel about a young girl growing up, coming into her own, and learning the difference between being defined by others and defining yourself. It features gorgeous prose, a breathtaking setting, and strongly developed characters. There is an element of wistfulness to it, as if the magic of the mountain in the story has effused into the words themselves. Once you begin reading, it is quick to suck you in, and you will find yourself unwillingly at the end before you know it, wishing there were more. 

The book opens on a girl named Miri, small for her age, whip-smart, funny, and restless. She lives in a tiny village perched on the edge of Mount Eskel, where the residents eke out a small existence off of the valuable stone, called Linder, that they mine from the mountain. Miri's father does not allow her to work in the mine like the rest of the village, a fact that causes her to be indcredibly unsure and self-conscious, at least at the beginning of the novel. The action of the story really picks up when Miri's remote village is visited by someone from the royal palace, something as inconceivable to the residents as traveling to the moon. The man informs the people that the priests of the kingdom have determined that the prince needs a bride, and that his bride would come from nowhere else but Mount Eskel. Due to this announcement, Miri and the rest of the village girls are taken down the mountain and put into an Academy, where they are taught everything that they may need to know, for one of them will become the princess. 

This is the basic plot of the story, and the book progresses as Miri learns more than she could have ever imagined. The girls bond together in friendship and sisterhood while at the academy, fighting off a vindictive tutor, the elements, and jealousies that threaten to tear them apart. I think one of the things that I like most about this book is the bonds that form between the girls. Miri goes from being someone who is a bit on the outside in the village, due to the fact that she doesn't work in the quarry, to feeling like she belongs.  This is such a powerful transformation, to see Miri go from powerless to powerful, even with her limitations, and it is just so beautiful to read, especially because we get to see her friends, family, and neighbors standing by her and believing in her. 

The reason that I say this book changed my life is because I was around eleven or twelve when I first read it, and it caught me at a time when everything was changing. I don't really remember the exact circumstances, but I think we can all agree that being eleven or twelve is an odd time for anyone, but especially for girls. I think a lot of us feel like Miri feels at the beginning of this book. (even today, at 21, which is why this book is timeless to me) She's unsure of herself, of her place in society, of what she wants to do, but throughout the book she goes on this incredible journey to find strength in herself, where before she saw only weakness. And no one could teach her how to do that. Only through education and through her sheer determination is she able to find peace in herself. And the fact that her strength comes from within, not from something or someone else, makes her even more unshakable. For an eleven year old girl, seeing someone my age go through that and start to believe in herself was incredibly powerful. It was something that inspired me to find my passions and my place in the world. This story of strength and confidence, when coupled with Shannon Hale's amazing, has stuck with me for a decade. This was the book that made me want to write, to travel, to explore and learn everything that I could. And it also told me that I wasn't too young to be heard, to be listened to. This book is incredibly respectful of young girls, which is something that is difficult to come by, and it means so much to me, even more so, maybe, than it did when I was eleven. I think this should be required reading for all young girls, and maybe even all adult girls. YALL!! This book is so good. I love it so much. SO MUCH. 


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