I love fairy tale retellings! Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball is a fun, edgy version of the Brother’s Grimm’s Twelve Dancing Princesses. Young soldier, Galen just finished fighting a war and is returning to a home he’s never known. His parents are long gone so he travels to seek kindness and employment from his Uncle’s family. He has a talent for knitting. Which when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. You are in the army, you want socks or a scarf, you better know how to knit. On the road he encounters a strange old woman who gives him two balls of special yarn and an invisibility cloak. She tells him he will need this when he’s in the palace. Of course he has no idea what she is talking about. His purpose becomes clear as he takes a job working beside his Uncle in the King’s gardens. Strange rumors circle around his twelve daughters. Each morning they leave their room exhausted with their shoes worn through. No one sees them leave and no one hears a peep coming from their rooms. The King becomes desperate. He invites princes from around the world to solve the mystery. Not one succeeds and one by one they all die from terrible accidents. Galen thinks he might know what’s going on and with the help of the old woman’s gifts; he tries to save the princesses.
This story is told from Galen’s male perspective, which makes for an interesting change. George beautifully describes both the underworld and the King’s gardens. I love the way the princesses are not wimpy, instead they help Galen save themselves. I also love that Galen’s knitting is a big part of the plot. This skill is what helps him solve the problem, locking the evil down below.
Some ideas for discussion with teens:
Talk about the differences between the original 12 Dancing Princesses and this retelling.
Talk about how Galen knits. Why does it seem weird that a boy would knit? Talk about how this skill helps him win in the end.
Talk about the stronger princesses, why is this so rare?
I picked up Aimee Friedman’s Sea Change after a friend remarked that this could be the new Twilight. Supernatural romance is very popular right now. We’ve seen vampires, faeries, werewolves. This time the creatures in question are merfolk. Miranda is meeting her mother on an island to sort out her eccentric grandmother’s estate. Her mother was long estranged from her grandmother, making the decision to leave the family’s summer home on Selkie Island to her quite a surprise. Miranda’s mother hails from Savannah’s high society. During Miranda’s ferry ride to the island, she is warned about the creatures that inhabit the island. Selkie Island is the summer playground to the Savannah’s rich upper crust. The locals live in Fisherman’s Village, a place where the wealthy stay away. The local gossip girl type gang befriends her but she’d rather read about science (marine biology to be exact) than wear high fashion and flirt with boys. She meets Leo at the local museum. He is not like any boy she’s ever known before. He loves sea life too, but he’s a local which complicates things. Miranda also has a birth defect that keeps her shy about showing her feet. She was born with webbing between her toes. The webbing was removed, but the scars make her self conscious.
I really liked the fact that Miranda is a brilliant girl who is interested in science. You don’t see a lot of that in teen romance books. I also liked the way the girls were portrayed. They were selfish and spoiled, but never mean. In fact, they genuinely liked Miranda and wanted her to spend time with them. This was also a welcomed change. They never come out and say, “Leo is a merman”. The author drops subtle hints and lets the reader decide. The first chapter felt a little contrived, when the older seaman was warning Miranda. But after that, I really enjoyed the book!
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Talk about legends of selkies and merfolk.
Miranda is a brilliant student. Discuss why smart girls usually not portrayed in teen romances.
Discuss how the society girls were spoiled, but not mean. Why do you think the author changed this stereotype? Do you think it is realistic?
Leo is also a really nice person. Is he realistic? Why do nice guys rarely make an appearance in teen supernatural romance?
Mia is now a senior in high school in Oregon. She is a gifted musician and hopes her talent at the cello will lead her to Julliard. Her mom and dad are unconventional. Her dad is a former punk rocker and her mom is a self proclaimed tough feminist chick! They both are surprised when Mia develops a taste and talent for classical music. Mia also has a boyfriend, named Adam whose band is up and coming. They were an unlikely match. At school they are called groovy and the geek. Mia is struggling to admit to Adam that she may go across the country to college and that worry occupies much of her mind. During a rare Oregon snow day, her family decides to take a drive to visit some friends. As Mia drifts off to sleep she is jarred away by the accident that throws her from the car. She discovers her parents are killed. While searching for her little brother she comes across her own severely injured body. As the paramedics take her away and med flight her to a hospital she follows her body through surgery and the post operative coma where her grandparents, aunts and uncles sit in vigil. At this point the only choice weighing on Mia’s mind is should she stay or simply drift away. While Mia watches doctors try to save her life we are taken in a series of flashbacks to her life with her loving family and her relationship with her rock star boyfriend, Adam.
The character development in this story is beautiful. I became attached to Mia’s wonderful and quirky family. The relationship she has with her parents is loving and respectful. I became attached to these characters which makes it all the more painful knowing they are dead. Mia’s relationship with Adam is not without problems. However, their relationship is based on respect and a mutual love of music. There is a scene where she and Adam first become intimate that is so original and beautiful. Adam is never rude or mean to Mia. He treats her with kindness. It is a nice change of pace from many romances found in young adult books.
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Talk about the relationship Mia has with her parents. Why does it seem to work so well?
Discuss the theme toward the end talks about how living is much harder than dying.
Talk about the tough decision Mia has to make about college and Adam.
Talk about her relationship with Adam. How is it different from other characters in books you read? How is it alike or different than your own relationships?
The sound of the cello brings Mia back. Talk about what is most important to you and what would bring you back.