A Review of The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani

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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.

– – – – –

Rating: 5/5 Stars
Quick Reasons: fairy tales turned upside down, inside out, and all sorts of sideways!; complex, opposing characters; witty, intelligent, and entertaining prose; an exploration and examination of the differences between “good” and “evil”; awesome, in-depth world building

Okay, y’all, things are about to get real up in this review. Please take any necessary precautions, yes? I might just spew glitter and frog toes all over the walls. Umbrellas highly advised.

She has mocked the children as batty and delusional. But in the end, they had known what she didn’t—that the line between stories and real life is very thin indeed.

This book does a lot of awesome, fantastical things—beginning with turning fairy tales on their heads and spinning them like tops. Seriously, going into this story, I expected it to be a simple “switch up”–Sophie and Agatha would be put in the wrong schools, teachers would quickly figure it out, and POOF! Everything would miraculously return to the way it was always meant to be. I was expecting to be rather bored, if I’m completely honest; as much as I was dying to read this, I was also leery.

I was not expecting to be so completely blown away. From the very beginning, this book took the fairy tale stereotypes and twisted them inside out, making knots out of every theory I thought I knew. The result is a gorgeous pretzel of convoluted awesome perched atop a present I didn’t know I was receiving. Really, guys, I don’t say things like this about just any normal book; there’s something special about this one.  The fact that heavy-handed morals like friendship, “destiny,” happiness, intelligence, good vs. evil, and self-confidence play such huge roles throughout… I was in book heaven, reading this.

On the first day of class, they all wanted to make their best impressions on teachers, boys, and anyone else who might lead them to Ever After. Swans twinkling on nightgowns, they flurried into each other’s rooms, glossing lips, poofing hair, buffing nails, and trailing so much perfume that fairies passed out and littered the halls like dead flies.

Soman Chainani obviously knows her way around a phrase; she has crafted every inch of this into pure, stunning gold. The mystical narrator, the suspense and tension winding up to a breath-stealing plot twist and climax… ALL of this read is entertaining, chuckle-inducing, heart-wrenching and absolutely gorgeous (yes, even the gross bits are gorgeous, because really… who even THINKS of this stuff?! I never would have!) The plot twists are complex, jaw-dropping, and fantastically paced to keep the journey ever churning, the pages ever turning.

The characters, also, are works of art. I really, REALLY adored the use of “don’t judge a book by its cover” in regards to our main leads, Agatha and Sophie. The fact that Sophie is ADAMANT there’s only one possible way she could go… The fact that halfway through, we’re told to reconsider everything we thought we knew… Hell, the characters’ personalities even shed light upon their “true” natures—and yet everything balances, in the end, and when the world goes totally topsy turvy and we’re not sure what’s going to happen next, we’re left to trust in our author. In our narrator. In the STORY. Oral narratives can’t compete with this masterpiece!

No wonder princesses were so impotent in fairy tales, she thought. If all they could do was smile, stand straight, and speak to squirrels, then what choice did they have but to wait for a boy to rescue them?

I love the wit and intelligence we glean from each and every moment. Even when nothing much is happening with our characters, things are HAPPENING, if you know what I mean. The world building, also, is expertly done; Soman Chainani knew the world he wanted to capture in this first book, and he did so brilliantly. I didn’t doubt anything that happened. At every turn, I was there slack-jawed and tense, taking the journey right alongside our characters.

I realize there are people who don’t like this book. I am not one of them. I thought this was a gorgeous, inspiring, and INVENTIVE rediscovery of fairy tales and the world they are born into. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend to lovers of the fantastical or authors such as Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett. This is definitely one of my favorite reads from the last few months!

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