When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
This is Modern Fairy Tales, part 2.
A few weeks ago I wrote about a doll quilt and the contemporary fairy tales that inspired it. The friend I mentioned in that post, a fellow reader of YA and fairy tales, followed up afterwards with a recommendation for The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. I was at the library that afternoon checking out a dog-eared copy of the book. It’s technically fantasy rather than modern fairy tale, but this gracefully crafted retelling of the Goose Girl is well worth reading. (Thanks, Amy!)
Ani is a crown princess at odds with her fate: In a world of manners, politics, and “people-speaking,” she is more comfortable with the outdoors and the animals she can communicate with. Shut away from much of the natural world by her distant and demanding mother, Ani’s best friend is her horse, Falada, a practical animal with little use for the nonsense of humans but a deep love for Ani.
In a political move to ensure peace with a neighboring kingdom, Ani is unexpectedly bartered off as a bride. Falada and a few loyal soldiers can’t protect her from the mutiny of her scheming entourage, though, and the crown princess is overthrown during the journey. Forced to take shelter in the anonymity of the poor, Ani becomes the goose girl in the palace she was meant to enter as a future queen. Her disguise allows her access to the castle grounds and slowly, with the support of her new friends in the animal sheds, she begins to summon the courage to confront the deceitful lady-in-waiting that took her place and try to stop the war brewing against her homeland.
I like this story for so many reasons: It’s an honest-to-goodness adventure story with a triumphant ending that takes a few unexpected turns along the way. The writing is excellent, with a beautifully developed setting and rich cast of characters. And Ani herself is charming, in the best likable-yet-flawed tradition. I rooted for her and occasionally wanted to kick her in the pants and grinned when she finally stood her ground.
Shannon Hale is also the author of the Newbury Honor award-winning book Princess Academy. It’s on the list for my next library trip.
P.S. That stack of fairy tales pictured in my previous post? A mixed bag. Gail Carson Levine’s Fairest is a good middle grade read, an interesting and somewhat loosely linked variation on Snow White. Levine has an open, conversational writing style that keeps the plot moving along. I liked her use of gnomes instead of dwarves, particularly how their unique language and culture is woven into the story. As for Beastly, Sisters Red, and Cinder: These are popular YA tales and I felt a little like I’d eaten a whole bag of candy after reading them one right after another.