Archive for March, 2011

Princess Academy

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Ages 12 and up

Well-written and engaging. Not a book you will find me raving (or ranting) about, but still, definitely worth the time it took to read it.

Fourteen-year-old Miri lives on Mount Eskel taking care of her family’s home and animals. But what she really wants is to work in the quarries with the majority of her village. She struggles with feelings of inadequacy and isolation, since her father has forbidden from ever working the linder block that provides her village’s sole source of income. Then the messengers arrive announcing that the prince’s bride will be chosen from among the girls at Mount Eskel. Which means that the kingdom will be setting up a school where all the eligible young maidens will learn how to be princesses.  Miri turns out to be good at learning the things the girls are taught (big surprise) and she starts learning more about her own heritage.

Shannon Hale creates a believable world. As is typical with books geared towards this age group, Miri doesn’t quite fit her mountain home and this book spends a good deal of time on her search for her place. Refereshingly, Miri is not an overtly rebellious teen who has the attitude that her father knows nothing. Her relationship with her dad is soured slightly by her doubts about her self worth, but even before that little misunderstanding gets cleared up, she and her father still have a loving relationship. She doesn’t always understand him, but when it comes down to it she obeys.

Anyways, it’s not your typical princess story. The fact that the main character has no royal blood is just the start. Predictable to point, it had me waffling between endings until about halfway through.  Hale weaves a trail to the end, with just enough detours to make you question you confidence in the expected outcome. There is an emphasis on communication and sticking with your friends despite peer pressure. It also has pitches in the anti-clique and accept the new girl themes.

Definitely a novel aimed at younger teen girls, but still worth the read for those who like this genre.

This is a good example of:

  • World building (without the annoying overload of details)
  • Retelling Fairytales
  • Tween and Teen Girl Fiction
  • Plot Structure

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Ages 15 and up

This is a series that I had been looking forward to reading for months. It was recommended by a friend who has impeccable taste in books. However, said friend also mentioned that the second book, Catching Fire, happens to have a doozy of a cliffhanger ending. So I thought, that knowing how well I don’t handle cliffhangers–it might be wise for me to wait until the final book was in stores. All of that to give my excuse for taking this long to finally read the series. That said–there is no excuse for not reading this series. None at all. Ever. You get the point.

From start to finish, Collins leads the reader (which will hopefully be you) through an intense journey–one of the most intense journeys I have ever been through as a reader. I was literally shaking when I finished Mockingjay. Collins kept me wanting to turn to the next page a little sooner, yet she was so in control that when I had to put the book down and carry on with my life I could. I wasn’t worried about what would happen next (except with the last 100 hundred pages, but that was excitement rather than wory). It was sort of riveted detachment. That’s not a contradiction I’ve experienced before.

Granted, it is a violent series. the premise introduced in Hunger Games–a sadistic Olympics where 24 teens fight until only one is left standing–guarantees some blood and violence. But I’ve read gorier (The Illiad anyone?) and some of that is considered classic literature (see previous aside) with the gore only there for shock value (see again).  Here it helps define the struggle of the main character to hold on to her humanity–or at least have some remaining when the games are over. It also provides an interesting glimpse of where mindless entertainment can lead. For the parents of young teens I would suggest reading this book before you let them, if only to know what the heck they are talking about when they want to discuss it.

And while we are on the subject of character: Collins has created some beautiful characters. Her mastery of the first-person narrative had Katniss commenting on aspects on my own life long after the books were finished. Her thought process felt as complicated and conflicted as my own can feel in times of stress. Plus, Collins creates a legitimate love triangle. I’m not talking about a childhood acquaintance thrown in just to stir up drama when the guy you know the heroine will end up with skips town. I’m talking two guys, each with equally strong (but different) ties to her heart. Even though I had an idea of who Collins was setting her up with (and I agree with her choice), I spent the majority of books two and three quite content with her ending with either guy. Partly, because romance wasn’t really what this story was about–it’s merely a piece of the big picture (If that isn’t a lot like life, I don’t know what is.)

This is obviously not a light, fluffy read. It was fun in places, but also hard. After all that Katniss goes through though, happily ever after is not an ending that she can immediately reach. She’s been through too much to be completely okay by the end of Mockingjay’s 27 chapters, but she (well, they) is on her way there and still fighting like she has from page one. This series is real, it’s not a happy-go-lucky fairytale–but it’s also not entirely a tragedy. It is well-written and thought provoking and surprising (yes, it’s not something I experience very often so it should count for double). And quite possibly among one of the best series you will ever read.

I take that back–There is no possibly about it.

Who Should read This: Any one who enjoys future fics with post-Apocalypse premises.

This is a Good Example of:

  • First person narrative
  • Relationships between characters (both friends and enemies)
  • Character development
  • Plot and story twists
  • Balance of overall big picture with character’s romantic life
  • How to have you readers banging at the bookstore door begging for the next book (See specifically, Catching Fire)

This book is one my recommended reading list.

%d bloggers like this: