I got this book because I enjoyed The Actor and The Housewife so much, and so I sought out another book by Shannon Hale. I was not disappointed! This book is like a lovely, iridescent polished stone of linder, the fictional opaline marble quarried by the villagers of Mount Eskel. It has hidden facets from different angles that catch your eye and your heart and leave you with a sense of strength and beauty.
Most of the children in the village start work in the quarry at age 8, but Miri, named after the tiny pink flower that blooms out of the cracks in the linder rocks, has never been allowed to work there. She thought it was because she was small for her age, and had been deemed inadequate. Now, at age 14, she learns she, along with all the other village girls between the ages of 12 to 17, must go to a “princess academy” to train to be acceptable as a potential bride for the Prince.
She takes leave of her father, older sister Marda, and lifelong crush Peder to make the 3-hour journey along with 19 other girls. While there, they are exposed not only to book learning for the first time, but to competition, cliques and jealousy, and unanticipated tests of courage and friendship. Only occasionally are they allowed to return to their village on breaks.
Miri may be one of the smallest children, but it is she who figures out the secret of the linder stone, and when the academy is in real danger, it is only her secret that can help save it.
Hale is a gifted writer of different genres that at first glance seem not to bear relation to one another. But all of her books are characterized by faith, good humor, and above all, the self-sufficiency and resilience of women and girls.
Her language often plays just the right note. At one village gathering, Peder has just kissed Miri on the cheek, then runs off:
“Miri did not move for three verses of the next bonfire song. A smile tugged at one corner of her mouth like a brook trout on a fishing line, but she was too staggered to give in to it.”
In another instance, one of the girls at the academy, Katar, has just confessed to Miri about the source of her unhappiness:
“…Katar sobbed misery at her side. ’I’m sorry,’ Miri said again, hating how hollow those words sounded. Katar had given her a small gift by opening her heart and showing her pain. Miri tucked the moment in her own heart and hoped somehow to repay.”
This book is not really about princesses, unless you define princess as a young lady who is not afraid to summon all of her assets to take on the world and make a difference.
Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2005
Newbery Award Honor Book (2006)
Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (2008)
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2007)