Miri feels useless. While her father, sister, and all of her peers work in the quarry mining linder all day, Miri is forced to stay out of the quarry and tend to her home. She believes that her father keeps her home due to her small stature, and this makes her a burden for the entire Mount Eskel village. When it is announced that the prince will be choosing the next princess from among the girls of Mount Eskel, Miri believes that this is her chance to prove her worth to her father and her community.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is a gem of a book. One of the biggest criticisms of middle grade fiction is that authors often tell, rather than show. They tell the reader how to feel about a character without letting the reader get to know the character on their own. But Hale masterfully shows the reader that Miri is moral, quick witted, funny, loyal, and strong through Miri’s words and actions. Just like Miri, the reader is conflicted about whether she would be better off marrying the prince and getting to travel and learn or if she should return to her village that she loves to help better her people. This is a conflict that many smart, talented young women deal with as they make their transition from hometown life, to college, and then to a career.
While there are a number of fantastic princess books from Ella Enchanted to The Secret Lives of Princesses to The Princess Knight, Hale is able to do something unique with this book. She isn’t just presenting an internal conflict of a young woman wanting to prove herself (although that conflict plays an important role in the novel), but Hale goes beyond that to create a protagonist that understands the importance of community and family.
I actually heard this book being recommended by Dr. Phil (not that I’m not a regular viewer). How ironic and fortunate that myself and a coworker were able to attend and hear University of Iowa professor Dr. Durham speak about her book this past February to The Women’s Connection.
The Lolita Effect, as the subtitle states, addresses the media sexualization of young girls. Dr. Durham provides many illustrations of how our culture is obsessed with these very detrimental representations (one of my favorites: major chain stores that sell junior panties that read “who needs credit cards…”). The Lolita Effect identifies and evaluates several harmful myths such as: “if you’ve got it flaunt it” and that “violence is sexy”. Dr. Durham presents realistic strategies for dealing with these media myths and depictions. As one reviewer stated she approaches her topic without being too “puritanical or permissive”.
While reading the Lolita Effect, I began to wonder when and how the term “Lolita” became equivalent to the “sexy girl”. I certainly tried my best to read Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 complete and unabridged novel, Lolita. Those Russian poets are a challenge. Middle aged Paris born Humbert Humbert (yes there are two) tells the story of his obsession with a particular type of young girl that he refers to as “nymphets”. In today’s world we call folks like this pedophiles. H.H. becomes fixated on his twelve year old stepdaughter Lolita. A very intense relationship ensues. The book was met with much controversy and has been critiqued both as - “Old Europe debauching young America, and as Young America debauching Old Europe”.
Although the namesake and topic of “sexy young girl” is the subject in both books, they are worlds apart. Durham’s book is fresh scholarly research while Nabokov’s is a tragicomedy still possessing classic literary status. I should get class credit!