Wednesday, December 18, 2013

REVIEW: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy/Fairy Tale
Audience: Middle-Grade/Tween

Children have been disappearing from the village of Gavaldon for generations. Adults claim children simply get lost in the forest and disappear, but the children know the truth. Every four years, two children—one nice child and one nasty child—are spirited away by the mysterious School Master to be trained as heroes and villains, eventually graduating into fairy tales of their own. Sophie has always believed she will be selected for the School of Good and groomed to become a princess. And surely her witchy, loner friend Agatha is destined for the School of Evil. Only once Sophie's dream comes true and she and Agatha are taken by the School Master, the girls find that their presumed destinies are flipped and the school is far more dangerous than they anticipated.

First Line: "Sophie had waited all her life to be kidnapped."

Tracy's Thoughts:
I adored this book, with its twisted fairy tales and imaginative world building. At first glance, The School for Good and Evil might feel a bit like a Harry Potter rip-off, with its predestined school divisions, secret corridors, magical creatures, and deadly challenges. The Rowling influence here is undeniable. And yet—for the most part—The School for Good and Evil feels fresh and new. Much of this is due to its examination of the middle ground between good and evil and the unlikely, occasionally uneasy friendship between its two heroines.

Sophie—with her princess hair, flouncy pink dresses, and daily good deeds—is the picture of a Disney princess, while Agatha—a dire, black-clad loner who prefers the companionship of her cat and a quiet cemetery—thinks villains are far more interesting. Which is why the girls are so surprised when pretty Sophie is dropped at the School for Evil and Agatha is assigned to the School for Good. Readers may think they know the "moral of the story"—truth lies beyond appearances, blah, blah, blah. But fortunately for us, the story and its characters are more complicated than that.

The School for Good and Evil is a bit lengthier than necessary, with a somewhat repetitive series of trials and tests, but I was entertained throughout and frequently amused by the snappy dialog and moral dilemmas. Despite its flaws, the The School for Good and Evil is a clever, adventure-filled read that turns the expected clich├ęs of fairy tales upside down. Luckily, this is only the first title of a planned trilogy. A sequel (A World Without Princes) is due out in April 2014 and a film adaptation is currently in development. But for those eager for more, check out the dedicated website and take the exam to determine which school is right for you. (My results: 66.7% Good, 33.3% Evil. Sounds about right ; ) )

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