The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
Digital Audiobook narrated by Polly Lee
Published by Harper Audio on May 14, 2013
Series: The School for Good and Evil #1
Genres: Children's, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Magic, Middle Grade, Young Adult
Length: 488 pages or 13 hours, 46 minutes
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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…?
The School for Good & Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.
Ahhhh, complicated reviews are complicated, y’all.
On one hand, The School for Good and Evil is a fun fairy tale world with quirky, interesting characters and a secret you spend the whole book impatiently waiting to find out.
One the other hand, it’s all very shallow and slow-paced and the little feminist in me dies a bit every time there’s an inference that the princesses watch their waistlines.
So, depending on the particular page or chapter, I either enjoyed this book… or it made me cringe.
In the beginning, we are introduced to our two main characters (Sophie and Agatha) and the town curse. Immediately, I decided Sophie was the worst. I think that was the point of her being such a superficial little brat, but so much of the story is told from her point of view. Even once her character develops a little depth, she’s insufferable and I trudged disgruntled through all her chapters. She’s not insufferable – it wasn’t torture, but honestly I couldn’t be bothered to care.
Agatha started out as a really interesting character. I liked her grumpy outlook towards the world and her desire to go back home that ran so strongly through most of the book. Especially in middle grade and YA, it’s so nice to see a character sticking to her goals and not falling head over heels for a boy. OR maintaining an independent personality after The Boy has been introduced. OR behaving rationally once The Boy is in the story. For the most part, Agatha was okay.
Still, at the bottom of it all was the conversation that good is pretty and bad is ugly. So one girl becomes extraordinarily beautiful, and the other haggard and disgusting. Why. Why does it have to come to such a black and white portrayal. And what really bothered me was that Soman Chainani was clearly trying to show that “it’s what’s inside that counts”… but he used the outside to illustrate that point.
And still. The worries about gowns and waistlines and everyone needing a man or they fail. The system at this school is messed up, and the only one who seems to notice it is me. And Agatha, on occasion. That bothered me enough that I’m having such an internal conflict on the whole thing. It wasn’t badly written. It was interesting enough that I’ll be reading book two. But … conflict.
I dunno guys.
This world though? The world is great fun, even if I’m not crazy about the school priorities. You’ve got wish wish and a school that teaches you magic and transmogrification and a competitive hierarchy and trials. It’s exactly the sort of enchantment that made me fall in love with Harry Potter as a kid. Maybe not quite as deep, but the same fun. The sort of thing that makes you want magic to be real, so you could go to school and learn it and be a princess (or a witch, whatever floats your boat). In the School for Good, an entire set of classrooms is made from candy. Mes amis, I would destroy that deliciousness on day one.
A lot of people whose opinions I respect enjoyed this book, and I think it would have a good reach with younger audiences. I have a friend with a daughter in the MG age group and this is DEFINITELY a book she would enjoy (and may possibly get for her birthday). All these good/evil/pretty/ugly issues probably wouldn’t even register to someone of the proper age group, who would totally be in it for the two girls and the awesome school. So I recommend it, but maybe not to curmudgeony 28 y/os like me. 🙂