book reviews / fairy tale / fantasy

Book Review: The Goose Girl

The Books of Bayern #1

Shannon Hale

YA Fantasy

The Goose Girl

Only after I turned the last page of Shannon Hale’s book did I look up the original tale of The Goose Girl in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Maybe my education in fairy tales is incomplete, because I don’t remember this one at all. But I was impressed with how closely Hale follows the major plot points of the original version, while weaving in themes entirely her own.

Ani is supposed to grow up to be Queen of Kildenree. But she faces a serious demotion when:

  1. Her mother pawns her off as bride to a foreign prince, in a peacekeeping effort.
  2. Her lady-in-waiting tries to kill her and then impersonates her in their new home, the kingdom of Bayern.
  3. Ani takes up a new job as a keeper of feisty geese (who, luckily, she can speak to).

In the meantime, there are traitors and loyal friends to be found across all classes. There are lots of people who aren’t what they appear to be, including Ani. And there’s a nice blend of humor, romance, wistfulness, and peril. I want to emphasize the wistfulness: chances lost, relationships that cannot be recovered or will never be fully realized. There’s almost an autumnal quality to the writing.

It complements Ani’s newfound power of speaking to the wind. Her growing ability to control the wind mirrors her psychological journey. Wind, after all, is intrinsically about loss. It blows things away from us. It cannot be held. Take the title Gone with the Wind for proof of this connotation. How do you seize control of that which is beyond your grasp? The book’s biggest strength is Ani’s journey into selfhood.

I found the passages about Ani’s relationship with her mother especially poignant. Although we see her mother very little in person, her unseen presence is often felt, like wind. And at times that memory is enough to knock Ani over (figueratively). She yearns for her mother’s respect and love, yet she cannot hold onto it. Her one tangible proof of her mother’s love, a cloth charm stained with a few drops of blood, blows away from her.

The book is mainly about change, and what things we can hold on to. Ani finds new strength, new friends, a new home, new people to love, even a new name (Isi), all while finding and holding on to some essence of core self. And that caring if shy essence is what makes us cheer for her as readers.

I give this book 4.5 out of 5 goose feathers.

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