The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale is a re-telling of the classic Grimm's fairy story about a princess who must become a goose girl before she can become queen. Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree (known to her friends as Ani, or sometimes Isi) has trouble fitting in, and taking on her expected role of Crown Princess. She loves listening to old-world stories, and she learns from her aunt how to communicate with birds. She has more difficulty communicating with people, and she is a bit of a disappointment to her powerful mother, the Queen.
After her father's death, on her sixteenth birthday, Ani's mother sends her away to the far-off land of Bayern, having promised Ani's hand in marriage to an unknown prince. Ani encounters treachery and danger, however, and eventually finds herself taking on the new role of goose girl, rather than her ill-fitting role of princess. As the goose girl, she hones her own strengths, and makes friends who like her for herself, rather than for her position. Eventually she learns to stand up for herself, and finds her place in the world.
The Goose Girl is a fantasy novel that feels as though it could be real. Yes, Ani talks to animals, and talks to the wind. But her more important attributes are her awkwardness, determination, and self-doubt - surely emotions that are felt by all teenagers. Shannon Hale's writing makes the reader feel deeply for the characters, yet also keeps one turning the pages quickly, to see what will happen next.
I found, despite having no conscious memory of the goose girl fairy tale, that the major plot points were fairly predictable to me (a reader of many, many books). But this in no way turned me off from The Goose Girl. I cared about Ani, and I wanted to see how she would react to the things that were happening to her. I found Shannon Hale's writing to be lyrical, and sympathetic. I look forward to reading the companion novel, Enna Burning, and future books about Bayern and Kildenree, and the people who live there.
The paperback edition that I read included a lengthy interview with Shannon Hale, as well as a reading group guide. I was already a Shannon Hale fan before reading The Goose Girl, because I love Shannon's blog, especially her impassioned defense of kids being able to read books that they enjoy. Having finally read one of her books, I'm a fan through and through.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.