Monday, September 16, 2013

REVIEW: "The School for Good and Evil" by Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
(The School for Good and Evil #1)

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Author Website

For Ages 10+
Middle Grade -- Fantasy
Harper Collins -- May 14, 2013
Hardcover, 488 pages
Borrowed from Library

Fairy Tales, Magic School

The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?

"Sophie had waited all her life to be kidnapped."

One of things I love about fairy tale retellings is the creativity that authors can show when they take a familiar story line and make it their own.  That is what first attracted me to Soman Chainani's debut fantasy.  I was intrigued by the idea of a school that taught children and teenagers how to be either the heroes/heroines or villains in popular stories.  And, after reading  it, I can definitely say that Chainani took this original concept and provided a fun, and thought provoking story, that I definitely recommend to fans of retold fairy tales, Harry Potter, Roald Dahl, and Neil Gaiman.

The School for Good and Evil is told in the alternating points of view of two very different young ladies.  Agatha is a shy outcast who is most comfortable wearing black and hanging out with her cat while Sophie is obsessed with her appearance and spends her days meddling in others' lives, usually without their permission.  They both start out as obvious ends of a the female character spectrum, but things start twisting around when they are kidnapped by the School Master and dropped into the School for Good and Evil.  Agatha is shocked to discover that she has been enrolled as a student in the School for Good where she will learn how to become a princess while Sophie is take classes on becoming a proper fairy tale villain.

Because of the dual points of view style, readers are able to watch the journeys of both Agatha and Sophie easily.  The girls have very different reactions to their introduction to the school with Agatha wanting to go home and Sophie trying to figure out a way to make her way to the "good" side of the school.  I really liked Agatha from the moment we were introduced to her and found myself annoyed by Sophie every time the scene shifted to her, but that was obviously part of the story.  Readers get to see how being in these different environments change these girls and whether they are able to get past the stereotypes.  Things got a little unpredictable at times which I really liked and there are obvious murmurings that things are changing in this world with Agatha and Sophie as the catalyst.

Chainani provides readers with a large cast of colorful characters to back up Agatha and Sophie.  My personal favorites were their fellow students though I also enjoyed the characterization of the teachers and the various creatures that live in the school.  Their personalities and involvement in the plot made readers think about the themes found in popular fairy tales  like the purpose of a princess and why villains act the way that they do.  I thought a big theme of this book was the true meaning of good and evil and these side characters helped show that things are rarely black and white.

The plot focuses primarily on Agatha and Sophie's conflicting experiences at the school and their attempts to figure out why the School Master has brought them into this world.  It starts out light and funny with the introduction of the girls and their first moments at the school.  But, things take a darker turn quickly though nothing that I wouldn't allow kids older than ten to watch.  I liked the fact that the author peppered the the book with comedy to balance out the more sinister parts.  Sophie's roommates in the School for Evil were especially funny to me.  Things did get long-winded towards the middle, but I thought the plot was entertaining and fun overall

The School for Good and Evil was a great debut for Soman Chainani.  The concept is creative and the writing stands up to it.  The characters (especially Agatha and Sophie) are well-developed and fit the plot well.  I definitely recommend this book and am anticipating the next in the series, A World Without Princes.


What's the one thing Evil can never have...and the one thing Good can never do without?

1. The School for Good and Evil
2. A World Without Princes (Coming 2014)
3. Untitled (Coming 2015)

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