Review: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

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Rating:  4 / 5
Genres: Middle Grade, Adventure, Fantasy
Release date: May 14, 2013 from Harpercollins
Number of pages: 488
Source: Hardcopy from Publisher
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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.

Once upon a time, in a land far away…

How many times have we seen our dear, precious stories from childhood start that way? How many times have we read about beautiful princesses, tricked by a witch, or a goblin, or other nasty creatures, and eventually saved by the prince and lived a “Happily Ever After”? How many times have we wished for our own fairy tale ending, to have our own prince swoop us up and run off towards the horizon?

I, for one, during my early years, wished for that a lot. I sighed, imagined, daydreamed. I even fantasized about being Ariel and having my very own Prince Eric (call me creepy, but hey! I was young!), about having to live in a big castle with luscious gardens and with servants tending to my wants and needs left and right (this got amplified when I visited some castles in France and Germany. They were absolutely beautiful).

So, what do these have to do with The School for Good and Evil?

Imagine all the things you’ve seen in fairy tales. The princesses, princes, evil witches, henchmen, sidekicks, talking animals and beanstalks. Take all of that, add a few others more, put them in this book, divide them between good and evil, make competitions who are the best in such and such, in which the highest tier of the groups will become the wealthy, just king/prince and the sorcerers and witches, and the bottom of the can the ponies/mice and cockroaches.

And then what?

THEN MAKE FUN OF THEM!

Ladies and gentlemen, the closest thing in pop culture that I could think this book is similar to is Shrek, not just because of the many fairy tale references (and that the school is responsible for the fairy tale characters becoming who they are), but also because of its subtle mockery of the clichés and stereotypes common in these stories. I, for one, laughed a lot and amused myself greatly.

At the School of Good, we have princesses who think of their beauty and their princes, and we have princes who think of their macho-ness and their princesses. There, they have classes on Animal Communication, Chivalry, Beautification and the like. At the School of Evil, we have the sons and daughters of brutes, witches, and evil sorcerers past, who are ugly, who bask in the negativity of everything, and who would study hard in Uglification, Henchmen Training, Curses and Death Traps for a wart or two (yes, in one of their classes, if you correctly answer something, you get a wart plastered on your face! A wart on the chin would make you fearsome!).

These were all so ridiculous, yet so true in many fairy tale stories we’ve come to know and love, that I found myself laughing at every chapter. And oh, when the princes appeared, and the knight in shining armour Prince Tedros came out with a “…halo of celestial gold, eye blue as a cloudless sky, skin the color of hot desert sand, he glistened with a noble sheen, as if his blood ran purer than the rest,” I imagined this:

(Not that he’s really like that, mind you… but with all the mockery going on, I couldn’t help it!)

It became even more priceless in the eyes of Agatha and Sophie, two readers not from the magical, fairytale realm, who were kidnapped from the outside world and taken to this very place for reasons unknown. Sophie had wanted this all her life, and like the other princesses, she cared a lot about her beauty, about her prince, about becoming a princess. Agatha, on the other hand, had lived all alone, friendless, at the town cemetery, where she thought of dark things and cheered villains for their quest of power. You’d think Sophie would go to Good, and Agatha to Evil, but it turned out it was the other way around!

I loved Agatha’s dry wit and humor. She thought all the princesses were shallow, and was wary of their extreme devotion to handsome, golden boys, make-up kits, and gowns. I couldn’t help but find her adorable and endearing, with her snark, sarcasm, and hatred for anything girly. To be honest, even though she may like dark things and whatnot, she was more “Good” than the princesses and princes with their snobby and shallow personalities, and every time she was treated with condescension, I couldn’t help but think, “How can these people be Good? If you’re really a Good, shouldn’t you help others in need?” I was rooting for her from the very beginning, hoping that she’d be able to teach these superficial kids a lesson on how to be a real Good.

Sophie… well… Sophie is Sophie and she is NOT Good at all. I couldn’t stand this girl. She went from annoying to downright unbearable to absolutely horrible, but even though that’s the case, her character development was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Her development from bad to worse even overpowered that of Agatha’s. You’d probably be asking how I’ve come to this conclusion when she’s the “villain” of the two, but it’s true! Sophie’s desire to be a princess and have her own prince placed her in a lot of trouble, putting a dent not only in her dream to be with Tedros and be a princess, but also in her friendship with Agatha. I couldn’t help but hate this girl so much with her antics, but in the end, if you look at the overall context of the story, it would all make sense, and you don’t need to like her in order to appreciate her “growth“. One thing is for sure, this girl makes the whole reading experience a hellish ride. She was bad, yes, but she was misguided at the same time, and you’ll feel sorry for her for it.

In the end, though, this book is more than just a story about fairy tales and how they came to be. It’s a story of love, magic, and ultimately, friendship. A friendship that goes beyond mere looks, that forgives, that helps and listens; a friendship that looks into each other’s hearts and understands despite your faults and misconceptions. Sure, Sophie made me see red. Agatha made me want to cry for her. But the ending… wow. The ending was awesome. The rollercoaster ride of intense emotions was well worth it just for that ending.

So, all in all, this book will make you smile, laugh, cry, mad, and will make your heart tight with so many conflicting emotions. I absolutely recommend this to those who’d want an original take on fairy tales and magic, and to those who’d want to read a touching story of friendship.

…they kissed, and they lived happily ever after.

An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my thoughts in any way. Thanks for copy, HarperCollins!

P.S. The drawings are preeeeeetty! Right click then Open Image in New Tab for best results.


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Faye

Faye

A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena

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    • FayeFaye says

      Thank you! It really needs to be read by everyone! And besides, there’s a movie of this going out on 2015… *wink wink*

  1. Kat Kennedy says

    I’m so jealous! I really want to read this book but I haven’t gotten time. It looks good, though it has gotten kind of average reviews. Thank you for including those pics from the book. They’re gorgeous!

    • FayeFaye says

      They absolutely are! There are like drawings on every chapter, and a lot more. Extremely pretty, even though some of them are a bit manga-ish. I hope you get to this one soon!

  2. says

    I think I got rejected for this on EW xD But I’m glad that you liked it! Seems like I need to order this online some time… :) Haven’t read a good MG since PJO and HoO. The characters sound great and the illustrations are beautiful indeed! I also like how unique the cover is :P

    • FayeFaye says

      Hahaha, me, too, actually! :( Thankfully, Harper sent me the book so I was able to read it. But a digital version wouldn’t have given this baby justice anyway… the drawings are enough incentive to buy a physical copy!

  3. says

    Most people rated this pretty poorly, but your review has made me have a change of heart. I really really really want this book, and if it is similar to Shrek, then I am sold!

    • FayeFaye says

      I’m glad to hear that! It’s a really great book. There’s a reason why Universal Studios bought film rights! :p

  4. says

    The audio for this one was amazing, but I am a bit sad to have missed out on the illustrations. Also, Prince Charming from Shrek totally looks like he could be Tedros’ older brother. haha. I never really warmed to Tedros. I’m sort of hoping that Sophie will mend her evil ways and she and Agatha will hook up. I don’t usually ship contrary to the characters’ wants, but dang it they have so much more personality than Tedros!

    • FayeFaye says

      LOL! I knew that Prince Charming somehow fitted him! I just knew it XD

      Tedros was definitely bland. I’m curious how it will turn out in the next book. Did you see the new cover? It has Tedros in it! O_O

  5. Eriel Micabani says

    I would really like to read this. Thank you very much for the review. Going to pick this up soon.