I love fairy tales. There is something so comforting about starting a book or story and knowing that it’s going to end with “And they all lived happily ever after.” Couple that with well-crafted prose and well-rounded characters, and an afternoon’s escape is at my fingertips.
Robin McKinley is an expert storyteller who writes books with strong, independent, female characters for young adults. Her book, The Blue Sword, won a Newberry honor, and its companion, The Hero and the Crown (which won the Newberry medal) is equally enchanting—what’s not to love about a heroine who saves a country through her bravery? She also wrote a novel called Beauty, from which I think Disney borrowed heavily for their movie, Beauty and the Beast, and amazingly, 20 years later wrote another novel based upon the same fairy tale, called Rose Daughter, crafting an entirely different story from the same basic elements.
This novel is a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty. The setting of the magical land is woven into every scene: the reader can almost see the fairy dust settle upon the page. The fairy, Katriona, who whisks the infant princess away gives the baby the gift of “animal speak”, and one of my favorite parts of the book is the trip home, during which various mammals of different species allow the infant to nurse. Katriona and her aunt raise the spirited young princess as their own child. Young Rosie grows up feeling loved and accepted and is free to choose her career path. So, of course, the young female Dr. Doolittle apprentices to the local blacksmith and learns about healing animals.
The reader already knows it’s “happily ever after”, but the way it’s tied up at the end—and the path by which it is achieved, is fresh and satisfying. Also, reading with an eye towards the “subliminal messages” that my daughters will be gleaning from the story, I absolutely love the championing of breastfeeding, monogamy, friendship, and family values. This is a book one could read aloud to a group of young people—lots of action, very little mushy stuff–or share with a daughter with no embarrassment or self-editing.
This book is a solid 4, and McKinley is a “must-read” for anyone who wants an innocent afternoon escape.