Friday, December 15, 2006
Shannon Hale writes fantasy books with elements of fairy tales, but her books are not sweet little princess stories. Princess Academy transports readers high in the mountains to a small community that quarries precious linder stone far away from civilization. It is a shock when the people of Mount Eskel find out that the king plans to marry one of their daughters. All the teenage girls are sent to the Princess Academy to learn the ways of the "civilized" people of their kingdom and to compete for the Prince's attention. Princess Academy isn't glamorous and fun--it's full-time school with a strict and cruel tutor while snowed in all winter in a cold stone building far from friends and relatives. As Miri learns to read and finds out more about the economics of her kingdom, ideas begin to form in her head. She is torn between wanting to be chosen as princess and wanting to return to Mount Eskel and help her people. There is some suspense when bandits threaten the lives of the princesses, and Miri uses a strange kind of quarry speech to save the day. Read this book if you want to bury yourself deep into another world. And read The Goose Girl, also by Shannon Hale, which I thought was even better than Princess Academy.
Rash is set about 70 years in the future, when current students will be grandparents. Things have changed in the U.S., which is now the U.S.S.A., the United Safer States of America. Everything is now safe--no one can play sports or litter or get angry. One fourth of the population is in prison for breaking the safety laws. These prison work camps are run by corporations like McDonalds and General Motors. Bo is a teenager who gets in trouble with the law (he causes a psychologically induced rash among his classmates) and it sentenced to a prison on the Canadian Tundra where inmates make pizzas for 16 hours a day and where polar bears lurk outside the gates. Strangely enough, this turns into a sports book when Bo is recruited for the highly illegal prison football team. Bo is a fun character to read about, and it's an intriguing look at the future. I didn't love how it ended, but I did love the idea of the book and the future world that Pete Hautman created.