A prince must choose a princess from the common people. No, this isn't the love story of William and Kate, it's Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. The kingdom of Danland has a tradition in which the wisemen determine in what village the prince's wife will be chosen. They've decided the princess will come from Mount Eskel, a poor mining village high in the mountains. The people are shocked, not just by this announcement but by the additional fact that all eligible girls must attend a special school to learn how to be princesses.
Miri is one of those girls. Her father depends on her to keep his home running but she wants more. Miri has conflicting feelings about the Academy. Although the work is hard and the teacher harder, Miri sees what becoming a princess would do for Mount Eskel. They could prosper instead of muddling along. Still, being a princess would mean leaving behind her loved ones and saying good-bye to her beloved mountains. For the time being, Miri puts those things aside and lets her competitive side take over coming to the head of the class. But the ultimate test comes when the prince arrives to pick his bride.
This is the first middle grade book by Shannon Hale I've read. I'm very impressed. Not only does she create a fairy tale world that actually feels real, but also well developed characters. Miri is more than just an ordinary girl. She's smart, funny, ambitious and caring. I loved her strength and her loyalty. Princess Academy is more than a story about poor girls learning good manners. It's about community and belonging while still being true to one's self. The story never lags and has a few twists at the end.
Princess Academy has the feel of a Scandinavian fairy tale, like Hans Christian Andersen only with a happy ending. There are magical elements but not too out-there. It's a surprisingly mature story for the age group. I appreciated how the story doesn't talk down to the reader. I can see why it is a Newbery Honor winner.
I highly recommend it even for old fogeys like me.