So, my little sister gave me The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale many years ago, and then it sat on my shelf and moved from apartment to apartment with me for so long that I completely forgot where it even came from, and I almost tossed it out when she was helping me sort my office. She kindly reminded me that she had given it to me, because she’s a very nice person, so I finally sat down to read it. It’s a little bit slow to start, so it took me a few sittings to get through the set-up, and then I hit the part where the story really takes off and binged the rest in one night. It was pretty great. I totally regret not having read it sooner.
First off, I think anyone who is not neurotypical has a good chance of finding the main character, Ani, highly relatable. She doesn’t connect easily with other humans, but not for lack of trying. She doesn’t have an instinctive grasp of social interactions and protocol, so it feels like everyone around her is understanding and communicating things that aren’t accessible to her. She doesn’t read people super well, so she tends to take what they say fairly literally and at face value. She’s naturally honest and forthright, and has a strong sense of justice. She has a deep interest in animals, and feels stifled when she’s forced to focus on all the things that people think are more appropriate for her. She tries her best to fit into a mold that isn’t made for someone like her, and feels like a failure because she can’t do it. She’s pretty much every autistic or ADHD teenage girl, basically.
I kind of love Ani.
I also love that the story doesn’t frame her as a failure, even though she often feels like one. Her differentness isn’t portrayed as the problem, her unsuitable environment and the people who take advantage of her are. She doesn’t need to change who she is in order to succeed, she needs to find a place where she can heal, grow, and be appreciated for the kind of person that she already is.
The set-up: Ani, short for Anidori-Kiladra, is the crown princess of a small kingdom. Some people in this world have different magical gifts which allow them to understand and speak the languages of animals, elements, or other people. Her mother the queen is a skilled people-speaker, but Ani has a talent for understanding animals rather than other humans. Her aunt helps her to develop this skill when she’s very young, but soon Ani is pressured by her mother to focus only on her future duties as queen and to put aside her “childish” interests.
When it becomes clear that she’s not well-suited to the life that her mother had originally planned out for her, she is sent away to marry a prince from a neighboring kingdom, but she meets tragedy and betrayal along the way. In order to survive, she has to run away from everything she’s ever known and learn to trust her own judgement.
Content warnings after the picture, if you’re interested.
CW: Emotional abuse, some physical violence, and animal-related tragedy.
(If you’re the kind of person who breaks down when bad stuff happens to the dog in the movie, you’re gonna have a hard time with some parts of this book. There’s no dog, but you get the idea.)