Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

I think maybe I don’t like Shannon Hale. I mean, I am sure she is a lovely person. I think maybe I don’t like her WRITING. (Also, she is friends with Stephenie Meyer and made that semi-rude remark about JK Rowling. Maybe I really DON’T like her.)

I didn’t care for Austenland at all. But Princess Academy is a book that I regularly recommend to my students because it was a Newbery Honor book. I take the Newbery very seriously. When I was in middle school, I lived and breathed books like Jacob Have I Loved (Newbery Winner), A Ring of Endless Light (Newbery Honor), The Westing Game (Newbery Winner), Bridge to Terabithia (Newbery Winner), Dicey’s Song (Newbery Winner), and The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Newbery Winner). That list right there? Those are some books that will change your life. So even though I am much more into dinosaurs than princesses (that’s how it has been and how it will be, world without end, hallelujah, amen), I thought I’d give Princess Academy a try.

You guys. It was so boring. I did not care. About any of it. The worst part is that I liked some of the things she was trying to do with the end, which has to do with the girls improving their village through knowledge and not by getting married to a prince, but I still didn’t care. Because it was boring. Now I have to stop recommending it to girls. Because I don’t want them to stop trusting me.

But even more distressing is the thought that this book was a Newbery Honor book. I’m not saying that the Newbery has to be a hugely popular book, but it should be the kind of book that can change your life the way that my well-loved copies of every single book on that list up there did. It has to be the kind of book that can stand the test of time. A book that has feelings that resonate and are relevant even when it’s 20, 30 years old. Instead, lately, the winners have been . . . just okay. I liked The Higher Power of Lucky, but even in that first very fresh review I expressed concerns that it wouldn’t get the message across to students like it wanted to. I think that what kept it from being great was that it could have explained those things in ways that a student could understand. The Newbery Winner the year that Princess Academy was an honor book didn’t impress me, either. And, honestly, I am not really taken with Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, which was the 2008 winner.

But this year’s winner was really interesting. This year, the prize went to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which is the kind of book that could maybe change your life, the kind of book you want to read again and again just for the delicious scariness of it. The Graveyard Book is a choice I approve of, even if it wasn’t necessarily my most favorite book. My students? They love it. It feels like the Newbery is kind of at a crossroads here: are they going to keep choosing books that have a message or concept they approve of, or is it going to be books that children (and adults) love that stand the test of time? I will be interested to see how it plays out. In the meantime, I am going to stick with recommending Jacob Have I Loved and Dicey’s Song and A Ring of Endless Light when one of my girls wants a “girl book.” (I do have some current recommendations, too, don’t worry. Or leave nasty comments.)

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