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A Pearl Among Princes by Coleen Murtagh Paratore

February 15th, 2010 (06:35 pm)
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Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Supernatural score music

As Gracepearl Coal approaches her sixteenth birthday, she yearns to leave Miramore, her lifelong island home. It is a beautiful, peaceful place, but she feels like there's somewhere out there, beyond the borders of Miramore, somewhere she's destined to be. Anyone who has ever felt that pull to travel beyond their backyard will understand:

I have been happy here, well provided for and lucky in the love of my father and my friends, but this past year something has changed. I have changed. [...] My life must have greater purpose than digging coal and peeling potatoes. There is a longing, a rising, a storm-surf pounding, foaming in my heart. I want something meaningful, more useful . . . more. But what will I be? Who will I be?

For her entire life, Gracepearl has been in love with one boy: her best friend, Mackree*. He is an honest, hardworking local boy who returns Gracepearl's affections, but insists that she find someone else to love, someone who can take her away from Miramore - someone like one of the princes.

Every summer, princes from the twelve branches of the Order visit Miramore to study the charming arts. A group of professors - made up of both male and female educators - teach the young men manners, etiquette, and other such things relating to courtship. Some of the girls on the island get all dressed up and giggly when they try to woo the princes. Gracepearl and her two closest female friends, Lu and Nuff, also watch the princes when they arrive at Miramore, but they'd rather talk about the boys amongst themselves than throw themselves at them. While they wouldn't mind catching a princely eye, the girls have bigger priorities and family obligations to fulfill: Nuff assists her mother with her laundry work; Lu helps with her family's cleaning work, though she'd rather be baking; and though Gracepearl has a talent for making windchimes, she isn't talented at cooking, but she helps her father, the town cook, as much as possible. This summer, the pool of princes include Sir Richard, a handsome soldier who proves to be a very nice soul; Sir Humbert, a conceited boy whom the girls dub Sir Humpty (as in Dumpty); and Sir Peter, another nice fellow, who looks like a pirate with his pierced ear and long ponytail.

As Mackree pointed out, Gracepearl could leave the island with one of the princes. She is torn - the classic "should I stay or should I go?" conundrum. She wants to stay with Mackree, with her father, with her friends, but also keeps having dreams of her being elsewhere, somewhere that she's providing help to those who need it. She has no desire to marry a prince, but she realizes that could be the way she uncovers her destiny:

I know now that I want something more than the wifely life on Miramore, cooking and cleaning and such. I want to make a difference out there in the world beyond, serve in some purposeful way. I want to mark my footprints, my handprints, on a bigger beach.

Later:

If I marry a prince...I'll have to take his name. That gives me an unpleasant feeling. Why does a girl have to give up her name? Is a girl's name less important than a boy's? I think not.

Gracepearl's mother instilled wonderful values in her only child. She told her what really mattered was "[y]our presence, not the presents." Sadly, she died when Gracepearl was only eight years old. Before she passed away from consumption, she prepared ten gifts for her daughter, each with a letter attached, one for each year up to Gracepearl's eighteenth birthday. These gifts are locked away in a special trunk to which only her father has the key, and she's never tried to open it, never having felt the need to ruin the surprises her mother so lovingly and carefully set up for her. Little does she know just how surprising the last three gifts in the trunk will be, and what they will mean to her and for her.

Gracepearl is a gentle girl with a good head on her shoulders. Her appreciation for her parents and her friends is admirable. When her father has a health scare, she is right by his side. When Lu and Nuff express interest in some of the princes - princes who have shown their interest in Gracepearl - she tries to pair those princes up with her dearest friends rather than courting them herself. Her mother is often on her mind, as she speaks to her mother in her thoughts and thinks of the nursery rhymes they loved to recite. (Each chapter also begins with a piece of a nursery rhyme.) She finds solace while talking walks by herself or collecting skipping stones and shells on the beach. Where, though, will she find herself at summer's end?

A Pearl Among Princes by Coleen Murtagh Paratore is perfect for fans of Princess Academy by Shannon Hale and Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix. It's also a good recommendation for a young reader who wants a book with a little bit of romance, because this is clean and age-appropriate. With short chapters, a straightforward plot, and a diverse cast of memorable characters led by a kindhearted protagonist, what's not to love?

Recommended for ages 8 and up.

* Mackree is pronounced muh-kree. In Gaelic, "mo chroi" means "my heart."

Read my reviews of The Funeral Director's Son and Kip Campbell's Gift by Coleen Murtagh Paratore.

I very much enjoy Paratore's series of books called From the Life of Willa Havisham, aka The Wedding Planner's Daughter books, and intend to write a review of those as well. I also like her Sunny Holiday series for younger readers.