This is not a totally spoiler-free review, please be wary of anything below the cut if you do not want to chance spoilers.
As I’m sure you may have seen me say before and as you’ll see me say again now, I am not a big fan of children’s/middle grade novels. It takes a lot for me to really enjoy that genre of books, but it’s because of this dislike that I’ve started picking up more variations of them in order to find out what kinds I do like. I enjoy the Percy Jackson series, the Harry Potter books, the Artemis Fowl saga… but there’s a distinct lack of interest I have for books that tend to fall in the same category. I just happen to much prefer Young Adult to anything else. I needed to test that, and I started with this book. Lo and behold, it hit that mark I had been looking for.
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
Series: The School for Good and Evil #1
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Fairy Tales
Release Date: April 15th 2014 by HarperCollins
Format: Paperback, 488 pages.
Rating: 5/5 Crabapples
Find it here: Goodreads || Book Depository
With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.
The two girls soon 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 among 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?
To start off, it’s a book about a set of fairy tale schools housing children of fairy tale princes, princesses, and villains. I love a good fairy tale retelling, or anything having to do with remixed fairy tale anything (see: The Isle of the Lost), so the fact this book (and its following sequels) had to do with something such as fairy tales and a supposed mix-up between two girls was already a hefty plus in its direction. I picked it up because of that reason, actually. But I’m glad I did.
Like you can probably tell just by looking at the cover (and maybe reading the back), the story itself is about two friends who are whisked off to school, where they will be divided and taught how to become the villain and princess of their respective stories. The catch is that they’re thrown in the wrong schools — dark, frumpy Agatha is expected to become a princess within walls of candy and makeup, while Sophie, the resident princess in her own right, is left to study in the art of “uglification” and the many ways there are to apparently cook a child.
While you can tell from the very beginning, in my opinion, that Agatha truly is the princess of this story just as much as Sophie is the witch, you will be brought along the journey as these two young ladies figure this out for themselves. It might be a slightly drawn-out process, but it’s entertaining all the way. You almost don’t expect to be hit in the face quite as hard once you start to hit the climax of the book (you can definitely tell Chainani is a filmmaker, let me tell you). There’s a lot going on before you get there, but that ending. It solidifies the epic of this children’s book.
Something else that helped me stay to the story is that the tone found within this book had a much, much darker tinge to it than I had been expecting. There were moments when I had almost forgotten I was reading a children’s book, and it took some silly, simple antic of one of the girls to bring me back to reality. The Nevers in particular (vs the “Evers”) were the ones who kept me from writing this off as only a middle-grade book. Hort talking about his father dying and being in line to be buried? The fates of some of the children who had failed their fairy tales? The ending of the book? Good lord, my heart was pounding and my eyes were widening over some of the things I read.
It was all good, though. So good.
There were still definitely moments where you could tell this was intended as a book for a younger crowd (though, 8-12? not quite the range I would go for, despite what the back of the book claims), the darker ones sent a click through your mind as you read. It was a really interesting experience, and actually reminded me a lot of the Artemis Fowl series, if only in that regard. The ending and some of the events that lead up to the ending especially showed this, and it really helped to set the mood and show the true danger that existed in this fairy tale world, despite it being a kid’s story.
Could the story have been improved? I think so, yeah. I’m no writer, I’ve never written a book myself, but as a consumer, I probably would have liked this book just as much with fewer pages in it. I know a lot were needed in order to watch Sophie struggle to be good, rising up and showing a true hint of Ever only to fall right back into her Never ways due to one selfish reason or another, but maybe if could have been chopped down a little more? It just ended up being a pretty damn long read. I still enjoyed it.
I’m going to finish this up by stating what my absolute favorite part of this book was, and that was the very end of Sophie and Agatha’s tale. They started off as friends, Agatha needing Sophie more than Sophie thought she needed Agatha, and they ended as the person that was needed to complete the other and set their fairy tale in stone, and I think that can convey a really good message to the intended audience. Of course, the next book will throw the girl’s back into turmoil, but that’s for another review.
If you read this, let me know what you thought of it! Thanks for reading!