The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale is a wonderful book! I originally read it in middle school and loved it. I got the 4 books in the Bayern series as a Christmas gift a year or two ago and finally got around to rereading them. Since thirteen or so years have passed since I last read The Goose Girl, I didn’t remember anything that had happened in the book. I was worried that my taste in books might have evolved/changed enough that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much this time. I shouldn’t have worried because I still loved it! Let’s start with a synopsis, shall we?
Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree spent the first years of her life listening to her aunt’s incredible stories, and learning the language of the birds. Little knowing how valuable her aunt’s strange knowledge would prove to be when she grew older. From the Grimm’s fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she could become a queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original and magical tale of a girl who must understand her own incredible talents before she can overcome those who wish her harm.
This book is based on the fairy tale of the same name by the Brothers Grimm. While there are quite a few similarities between the two, the book does have a somewhat different ending. Hale does a wonderful job of fleshing out the original fairy tale and giving it more depth, as well. Honestly, if you have read the original fairy tale, you’ll know what’s coming in some places, but there’s enough new content that it is still enjoyable despite that.
I really loved all of the friends Ani makes throughout the book! Enna is one of my favorite side characters, though. They meet each other after Ani becomes a goose girl. Ani keeps to herself in the beginning, trying to escape notice and forming plans to reclaim her title. Enna seems to understand that Ani needs a friend, though, and doesn’t stop trying to talk to Ani and include her in things. And when she finds out that Ani is actually the Princess from Kildenree, she believes her and promises to keep her secret. She’s just such a wonderful friend to Ani. I’m glad they met each other!
Selia is a piece of work. She is Ani’s lady-in-waiting who travels with her to Bayern, all the while plotting to kill Ani and present herself as the Princess of Kildenree. Like I said, I’ve read this book before, so I had an inkling that Selia was up to no good from the beginning. However, I was still shocked at how truly evil she turned out to be! Usually a villain in a book needs to have some redeeming qualities to make them feel more complex, but I think the fact that Selia is completely rotten to the core works well in The Goose Girl, since it is based on a fairy tale. After all, most fairy tales are very black and white when it comes to the villain’s evilness.
Ani’s character development more than makes up for Selia’s one-dimensional evilness. In the beginning, she was very much a pampered princess. She had nurse-maids, servants, and didn’t want for anything. When Selia begins to make Ani fend for herself on the journey to Bayern, Ani is shocked, but goes ahead and muddles her way through learning how to do basic tasks for herself, such as setting up her own bedroll. Later, when Ani is on her own, she does things that made her seem arrogant, but were actually done out of ignorance. For example, when she stays with Gilsa and Finn the first night, she sleeps in Gilsa’s bed. She genuinely doesn’t realize that she took Gilsa’s bed, however, so when she finds out Gilsa slept in the shed that night, she apologizes. Ani has been raised in a castle and waited on all her life, so she doesn’t realize how normal people live/behave. I thought the author did a great job of showing the reader that Ani has a good heart and behaves rudely due to her ignorance. Every time Ani did something thoughtless, she would apologize as soon as she realized she had done something rude. Ani was a kind girl, but her ignorance of how most people lived made her seem arrogant occasionally.
When Enna discovers that Ani isn’t who she says she is, Ani tells her everything that has happened to her. She starts with her present disguise and works her way backward, which I thought was a smart idea. If she had started her story by saying, “I am the real princess of Kildenree,” she would’ve sounded crazy. Because Ani started with her goose girl persona and went backward, she eased Enna into the idea that Ani was someone else. This probably helped Enna realize that Ani was telling the truth.
There were a few things in The Goose Girl that confused me. The first thing is the map in the front of my copy of the book. It doesn’t seem to correspond with the descriptions in the book. For example, on page 49 it states the following:
To the left, the mountains rose and the trees climbed their heights, leaving just the peaks as bare, gray rock. To the right, the open lowlands reached wide to the south. But ahead of them, in the east and north, the land was completely lost in the greatness of the Forest.
But according to the map, Ani and company have to go south into the forest to get to Bayern. So how is the forest ahead of them in the northeast?
***MAJOR SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH***
The other thing that I didn’t quite understand was the powers that certain people had. Ani’s aunt explains in the beginning of the book that some people are born with a word on their tongue that gives them power over certain things. Some of the ones that were mentioned were the ability to understand an element like fire or wind, the ability to speak with animals, the power to coerce people to do your bidding, etc. But Ani’s aunt made it sound like you only got one power. So why did Ani have the ability to speak to animals AND control the wind? Maybe I read it wrong and people could have more than one power. Or maybe Ani’s ability to talk to animals didn’t count? It was kind of confusing to me.
***END OF MAJOR SPOILERS***
I really enjoyed The Goose Girl the second time around. I do think I read it more critically this time, though. I still recommend this book highly to children and adults alike! I give The Goose Girl four stars!