(crossposted to itbit)
I’ve read that adolescent girls read books about boys and girls with equal interest, but adolescent boys only read books about boys. Apparently my 12 year son has not yet gotten that memo, because when he saw The Princess Academy on my shelf, he asked if it were any good, and when I admitted I hadn’t read it, he handed it over as my next assignment. Now my son is as unprincessy as the next clumsy, ravenous, awkward, messy 12 year old boy, but he appreciates a good book as much as I do, and won’t let female main characters stand in his way of enjoying a story that ought to be enjoyed.
That said, he hasn’t read it yet, but I have, at his request. I started this book in the evening, when I got home from work yesterday and was all tuckered out. I had to put it down to go to a show downtown. The Fiery Furnace band sucked rocks. I sat there, knitting on big black socks, wishing I was somewhere cozy reading Princess Academy, my son wishing almost the same thing, only he’s reading The Golden Compass, my daughter complaining loudly “I’m booooored” and my husband pleading with the gods to stop the show before the end of the next interminable song. After that we heard Yo La Tengo, who were awesome, and drove thoughts of mountain top adventures straight out of my brain. Upon arriving home, I curled up in bed and finished the book.
Our copy is autographed, personalized for the true princess in the house, which just makes it a little extra special. This book is a Newberry Honor book, which explains its ubiquitosity in bookstores and libraries alike. You can totally see its Newberriness in the main character, who is a seething mess of self-doubts and misgivings. Naturally this story takes Miri, named for a little mountain flower that young girls wish upon, on a captivating journey from her self-loathing through self-discovery and towards self-actualization.
Truly my son is a card-carrying member of the Harry Potter generation, and prefers fantasy over any other book. This story has a small element of fantasy, and its pre-industrial setting has a flavour familiar to fans of fantasy. Set atop a mountain, cold and remote like I imagine the mountains of Tibet, the story takes place in a classic kingdom, where villagers work hard in the quarries, and trade their goods for everything they need to eat, wear and get them through the long, hard winters. A Cinderella-style story, where all the girls prepare to meet the Prince at a ball, it lacks a fairy godmother to set things right. Instead, the girls must rely on themselves, plus the strengths of their families, their community, and the very mountain on which they live. There is competition and cooperation, anger and reconciliation. With just a hint of magic, the true driving forces in this story is the characters, the setting, and the heart-pounding adventure of the climax. There’s a little romance, a nod to families and the ties that bind them together, and some appreciation of one’s home, seeing the good rather than the faults.