The Princess Academy (2005), by Shannon Hale

Hale-Princess AcademyThis is a surprisingly refreshing twist to the standard “rags to riches” Cinderella plot.  Our heroine is sent with the other girls from her poor mountain village to a “princess academy” to learn manners and etiquette, as the priests have prophesied (as they do unerringly) that the next princess would come from this village.  The story is largely about the dynamics between the girls, and the lessons they learn—both from books and from each other.  What makes this tale so refreshing is that Miri, the protagonist, is uncertain whether or not she wants to be princess, although she knows she wants to best the school bully for other reasons.  Her learning brings knowledge and prosperity in commerce to her village, and happiness to herself and her friends.  The outcome of the story is not easily anticipated, but is welcome in its appropriateness for the characters Hale has created for us.

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