Miri desperately loves her family in Princess Academy, but she often feels like she's left out. Her older sister, Marda, gets to help out in the quarries, but Miri doesn't—and she feels as though she is the only person in the village who isn't contributing. Miri eventually finds out that her father keeps her from working in the quarries because she looks like her mother, who died after a quarry accident, and he is haunted by the memory of this incident. In other words, like most other families, Miri and hers have their misunderstandings, but in the end really love each other.
Miri feels as though her family does not respect or want to include her, but in the end she finds out that they are just trying to protect her from getting hurt because they love her.
Britta is lonely because she comes to the academy as a supposed orphan, but she develops a little mountain family through her friendships with the other girls, especially Miri.
The Princess Academy is put into place for one reason only: to transform the young ladies of Mount Eskel into promising potential brides for the prince. Even though they're pretty young teenagers (Miri's only fourteen, after all), the girls in this book have marriage on their minds.
And the thing is, of course, that marrying the prince means a whole lot of great things for whoever is chosen. The girl will get to be a princess, yes, but she'll also be wealthy and able to provide for her family, in addition to living in the lowlands. For girls who have grown up on the mountain, these are pretty magical prospects. There are twenty of them though—and only one prince—so the girls have to study hard, act refined, and somehow charm the prince into wanting to marry them over the course of one dance.
They've got a tough task ahead of them, that's for sure. And that's all before the marriage even begins.
Even though all the girls say that they want to be the princess, only one of them is truly in love with the prince himself. The others are just in love with the idea of wealth and prestige.
For Miri, the end goal of the academy isn't to actually get married; she just wants to be known as the best student in the school.
In Princess Academy, Tutor Olana believes that her charges need to refine their language and learn the art of diplomacy because they're poor, crude girls from the mountains. Her lessons do help them, but that doesn't mean that lowlander communication is better than highlander communication—and it turns out that natives from Mount Eskel can communicate with each other through something called quarry-speech, where they can silently exchange messages and send memories. Their messages travel through the linder rock that they work so closely with.
With their quarry-speech, the people of Mount Eskel can communicate—and seek help—even from far away. It's a cool trick, for sure, but it's also what ultimately saves the day for everyone.
Throughout the course of the book, Miri learns that language doesn't need to always be conveyed verbally; you can communicate with others without words as well.
Tutor Olana teaches the girls how to speak "well" and engage in the practice of diplomacy, and with their new knowledge they are able to turn their skills against her and use diplomacy to make their own demands.
For Miri and the other girls in Princess Academy, Mount Eskel is home. They've grown up in the mountains their whole lives—with the exception of Britta, who was born a lowlander. Because of this, even though they all yearn to be chosen by the prince and come into riches, they're hesitant about the idea of having to leave the only home they've ever known. Miri is especially torn by this. She loves the people she's grown up with (ahem, Peder), and has a great deal of pride in Mount Eskel… so would the palace ever be her home if she became a princess?
Although Miri wants to become academy princess in order to give her father and sister a new life in the lowlands, they do not actually want to leave the highlands at all.
Even though Britta ends up living with relatives on Mount Eskel, she comes to see the academy as her home because it's where she has friends who care about her.
With twenty girls vying for the attention of one prince, Princess Academy might as well turn into a reality show. It has a lot of the hallmarks of one—catty girls, suspicions of cheating, and steep competition—and as soon as the girls show up at the academy, there's a lot of envy and competition over who does the best in their classes. This means that as the best reader, Miri is immediately hated by most of the girls.
Even though becoming academy princess doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be chosen by the prince, every girl wants to be the one he dances with first. Who will be the last one standing? Only the prince can make that decision.
Though Katar remains competitive and refuses to be friends with Miri through their time at the academy because she wants to win, it is by opening up to Miri that she finally gets her chance to go to the lowlands with Britta at the end.
Miri only wants the prince because of the competition aspect; once she becomes academy princess, she realizes that she doesn't actually want to marry him at all. She loves Peder.
There's definitely a perception of class differences between lowlanders and highlanders in Princess Academy. In a bit of a twist, though, it's the lowlanders who think they're higher class, while the highlanders are looked down upon because they're just poor mountain folk. The traders think that the highlanders are stupid and can be swindled, and Tutor Olana acts like teaching a bunch of mountain girls to behave like ladies is going to be some insurmountable task.
But as the book progresses, it becomes clear that the girls—and their families—aren't stupid or backward at all. If given the right resources and education, they're just as smart as any lowlander, and even possess knowledge of their own.
Tutor Olana starts out looking down on the girls because of where they come from, but by the end she is able to see them for their successes and acknowledge their intelligence.
Although Britta is the daughter of a nobleman down in the lowlands, when she arrives at Mount Eskel, she is shunned for being a lowlander. Her status changes depending on where she goes.
In Princess Academy, Miri often has to rely on her friendships to get her through the loneliness of being away from her family and home. She's isolated from a lot of the other girls, who are jealous of her academic success, and Tutor Olana certainly isn't a maternal figure. But she comes to know Britta better and to communicate with some of the other girls using quarry-speech, which Tutor Olana cannot decipher.
Plus she has the memory of Peder to keep her going; he's her best friend (and huge crush), and when things get hard, she thinks about seeing him again. Their friendship is so strong that when the bandits attack, she's able to call to him for help using quarry-speech.
By becoming friends with Britta, Miri realizes that she too was guilty of judging people based on where they come from. She needs to overcome her prejudices about lowlanders in order to see Britta's true self.
Miri's friendship with Peder seems like it's on the rocks once she's shipped off to the academy, but in fact, their relationship is just growing stronger and entering another stage.
The citizens of Mount Eskel don't fight against the mountain in Princess Academy—instead they embrace their home and the resources that it has to offer. The highlanders collect linder from the quarries for a living, and by working so closely with the rock, they've been able to somehow use it to communicate. They are so bound to the place they live and the linder they work with that they can communicate through something called quarry-speech, which lets people from Mount Eskel share memories with others and send messages.
On the flip side, outsiders like Tutor Olana, the bandits, and even Britta can't understand what they're saying, since they're not as close to the mountain. This comes in handy time and again as the plot thickens.
The villagers on Mount Eskel can communicate through the linder rock because they have been so close to the mountain and land their whole lives; they can feel what others don't.
The lowlanders may think of the highlanders as hicks, but it is in their closeness to the land and the linder rock that the highlanders are able to forge community and form shared memories.
Even though the girls are encouraged to look toward a potential future of being the princess in Princess Academy, they are motivated by a lot of their memories from the past. For example, Miri's father doesn't allow her to go into the quarries because he can't help remembering how her mother died. And Britta comes all the way up to Mount Eskel and pretends to be an orphan because she has such fond memories and feelings for Prince Steffan.
Shared memories are also how the residents of Mount Eskel communicate with each other through quarry-speech. So when Miri wants to convey something to the other girls or to Peder, she thinks of a memory that they had together—and almost every time, it gets her point across.
The stories told at the spring holiday may just seem like silly legends for children, but they are shared memories that all the villagers on Mount Eskel can remember and bond over.
Miri remembers a time when she was very close to Peder as a child, but as they grow older, they have to create new memories and shape their relationship into one that is no longer platonic.
The girls in Princess Academy have been sent to learn how to become presentable young ladies, but in the process of being away from their families and learning more about the world, they also grow up. At the beginning, Miri is the sheltered younger daughter who isn't taken as seriously by her father, but as she grows up and learns more, she manages to teach the adults Commerce and convince them to ask for more from the traders.
Her relationship with Peder also changes. Whereas they were just best friends before, she starts to feel a little… well, funny around him. After all, what else can you expect from a couple of teenagers? But they find their footing by the end, just as Miri herself has really come into her own by the time the story closes.
Even though Miri isn't chosen to be the next princess, her time at the academy has still given her so much by way of knowledge, friendship, and the realization that she does not want to leave Mount Eskel or work in the quarry.
By going to the academy, Miri learns valuable lessons that she can take back to the village so that she finally feels like a contributing member of the community.