Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review 45. The School for Good and Evil

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Book: The School for Good and Evil
Series: The School for Good and Evil (#1)
Author: Soman Chainani
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Pages: 488
Published: May 14th, 2013

Synopsis: 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…?

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

“Only once you destroy who you think you are can you embrace who you truly are” 

This book was pretty meh for me. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible. I can totally see why people liked it, and I did enjoy reading it (hence the three stars), but there were just too many problems with the message and the plot for it to really blow me away. Maybe I'm just too old for most middle grade.

First off, I felt like the message wasn't clear. Honestly, the message to me seems to be that "Anyone can be an asshole. Are you beautiful? Ugly? Doesn't matter. We're all assholes deep down, and we all have the capability to be horrible people who can't feel sympathy. Anyone can be petty and mean, and don't you forget it!"

But on a more serious note, the messages were kind of scrambled. The two main characters, Sophie and Agatha, were clearly supposed to show that friendship is important and powerful for girls, and that friendship can be valued over finding a man, but the story kept contradicting that. Sophie was a HORRIBLE friend, and their relationship was very toxic. Is the moral that you're supposed to stay in toxic relationships and try to fix someone, even if they are outwardly cruel towards you and your other friends? I get that Sophie is supposed to be evil, but it's hard to feel bad for a character who keeps stabbing her only friend in the back at every opportunity.

The worldbuilding didn't make a lot of sense, but a lot of that I'm willing to write off to it being set in a fairytale. The one thing that really did confuse me though is how apparently every fairytale character went to school at the School for Good and Evil as a preteen/teen. That just doesn't make sense in the scope of the stories. What about Rapunzel, whose story starts the moment she's born and covers her entire childhood? When did she go to this school? And how do characters who die at the end of their stories have children afterwards? I expected them to explain this away by saying something like "the stories happen in another temporary reality" or even "we just shrink everyone down to infants before they start their stories," but as far as I can tell, this was never explained! Apparently every fairytale character takes a four year break to go to high school in the middle of their stories.

Also, why did anyone even like Prince Tedros? I get that he's supposed to be the main love interest, and I get that he's supposed to be handsome and strong, but beyond immediate attraction, I don't see the appeal. As soon as any girl gets to know him, it's clear that he's kind of a jerk. I understand why shallow Sophie would stick around, but I don't see why Agatha, who is actively against falling in love and is probably a lesbian (I'm calling it) would fall in love with the jerk who her best friend is desperately in love with and who calls her an evil witch for the majority of the story.

I did like the idea overall though, and some of the plot points were fun to talk about with my friends. It was enjoyable for what it was, and once I got over the parts of the plot and worldbuilding that didn't make sense, it did get kind of fun.

And to be fair, the parts of the message it did get across were good. It did try to show the power of friendship, and that we all have good and evil inside us.

It was enjoyable overall, and I really did harp too much on the flaws, but I just felt it was a bit of a waste of a cool concept.

Conceptually, it was very interesting, but the execution was flawed. Will I continue? Maybe? Probably not. We'll see.

- Claire

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