Book Review: Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner

In Nobody’s Princess, we meet the young Helen of Sparta, as author Esther Friesner imagines her to have been, before she became the Iliad’s Helen of Troy. Inspired by Sparta’s later practices to train girls in athletics and warfare, Friesner paints Helen as a feisty and fearless would-be warrior maiden, as well as possessing her legendary physical beauty.

Young Helen’s adamant determination to be free of a woman’s domesticated fate sends her on numerous adventures: disguising herself as a boy, learning swordplay, hunting, helping slay a wild boar, and voyaging to new cities. This YA novel is a quick and easy read, and the enchanting setting of Bronze Age Greece was well-described and captured my imagination. I enjoyed the numerous mythological references and the way in which Friesner wove the Greek gods and goddesses, heroes, and their stories into Helen’s daily world and stream of consciousness. Nearly all of the supporting characters had color and charm in their own ways. I would’ve enjoyed reading even more of their stories and interactions. I especially admired Atalanta, the friendly girl-warrior who teaches Helen how to ride horseback.

The last several chapters of the book set up Helen’s next adventure, so the reader must find the sequel to resolve the story. This is a fun mythological novel for girls aged 11-14.

Book Review: Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney

I love, love, LOVE this book, Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney. We meet young Anaxandra of a nameless Greek isle, daughter of a pirate, when she’s taken by the King of Siphnos. In Siphnos, Anaxandra is treated well, and given as a companion to the sweet but sickly princess, Callisto. But one fateful day, Siphnos is attacked, leaving Anaxandra its sole survivor. Found by King Menelaus of Sparta, Anaxandra is mistaken for Princess Callisto, and is taken to Sparta to live in the court of Menelaus and his formidable wife, Helen.

Throughout the novel, Anaxandra’s character is so real and vulnerable, as she struggles with the guilt of stealing a deceased princess’s identity, and deceiving the good people of Sparta. As a reader, you really empathize with her and feel her guilt! She also wrestles with the fear of due punishment such deception might invoke from the gods – all the while, praying loyally to her unknown, unnamed patron goddess: the “goddess of yesterday.” Meanwhile, the vain and selfish Queen Helen reigns a quiet terror over Anaxandra, as Helen suspects Anaxandra’s fraud. But when Helen undertakes an adulterous love affair with a Trojan Prince, stealing away to Troy and starting a war, Anaxandra follows suit to protect Helen’s baby, Pleisthenes.

Anaxandra, or Callisto as she’s also called, is a character of humility, courage, selflessness, and loyalty. She is flawed, but carries these weaknesses in an honest and natural way. The pages of Goddess of Yesterday are thronged with enchanting mythology, dynamic characters, the thrills and horrors of war, the woes of love, and captivating geographical exploits. This is a great read, no matter how old you are!