I'm a sucker for well-written children's books, so when I happened upon Princess Academy (2005) by Shannon Hale with it's shiny Newberry Honor Award on the cover, I decided it was worth reading. And I enjoyed reading it; I was never bored, I liked the story, and there were good lessons to be learned for young girls. However, as much as I liked the story, I never truly lost myself in the book. I was always aware that I was just reading a story. There have been some children's novels that have just drawn me in--like The Book Thief and the Harry Potter series, or been multi-layered like Neil Gaiman's writing, and this one wasn't quite on that level. However, it's worth reading, and I would especially recommend it for young girls.
Miri is a young teenager living high up on the slopes of Mt. Eskel in an extremely isolated town filled with the strong, hardy miners of a valuable stone called linder. Looked down upon or forgotten by the rest of the country, Miri and her town know almost nothing about the outside world. But when the priests declare that the next princess will come from Mt. Eskel, an academy is set up and all of the girls in the village of a certain age are brought to the "princess academy" to learn and train for one year until the prince comes up to make his choice of bride. With the dynamics between the girls sometimes similar to that of the women on "The Bachelor," Miri learns to read, learns about her country, and both yearns for and wants to reject the prince and the possible life she could have.
There are many good lessons in this book about friendship, loyalty, love, and finding your way in life. It is also something of a feminist book where the girls in the school make a difference in the life of their town as well as themselves. I think the only thing that kept me from loving it, is that it seemed too simple. There weren't too many layers. Miri is sad because she is small and thinks of herself as weak, but she really isn't. The teacher is mean, but really she's just unhappy. So, although I enjoyed reading it, it isn't one that will haunt my thoughts.