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…?
Oh books with pretty covers, what a siren song you sing to me from your lofty bookshelves. Without a doubt, the cover of The School for Good and Evil was why I picked this book up, granted the premise is what put it in my pile of books to buy on that visit, but I'd be lying if I told you it didn't end up trumping several books I'd been thinking I would buy when I got there. The reason I bring this up is because it's a moment when marketing and content marry really nicely in a Middle Grade book, and with all the continual bru-ha-ha online about cover changes due to marketing I think it's important to say that this book is very effective. Beautiful cover art, the rough page cuts and the interior illustrations are exactly what is called for by the contents of the story. I'll be crushed if I now find out that in broad sales it wasn't successful.
A classic fairy tale, with both the creepiness, questionable "happy" ending and more than the normal quota of princes, princesses and castles, The School for Good and Evil is the kind of book I look forward to sharing with my own daughter when she's old enough. It's fast paced, has an excellent story arc and it's thoroughly enjoyable, but better yet, it has intriguing and important things to say about loyalty, friendship, beauty, and yes, good and evil.
One of the comments I have often said to people when I've talked about Code Name Verity is that it's a love story, but of two friends. I point this out because it's a real rarity in YA. Less of a rarity in MG, it's still rarely done so well as in The School for Good and Evil, but Sophie and Agatha get a true friendship love story, which in the end, is the real classic experience for young girls. But I also think it's a great thing to highlight, especially the way Chainani does, where the friendship trumps any romance. I often worry we're instilling the hunt for "true love" way to early in children, that we have to teach them to be good friends before we can teach them to find romance, god knows YA has become riddled with love stories, to the detriment of us all.
I also greatly appreciated the complexity of Chainani's plot, it had several layers to it's story of good and evil, to the point where I think it would do well with a couple of re-reads, where the reader can eke a bit more out of the story each time. The darkness of the School for Evil is a given, but the real surprise here is how dark the School for Good could be as well. Trying to sus out who's the bad guy was not a straight up thing, and the story left you with a lot to think about.
Think of the classic, somewhat morbid fairytale tellings, throw in a dash of Harry Potter whimsy and then give it some Lemony Snicket snark and dark humor and you'll have an idea of what Chainani has put together. A really one of a kind MG read, I think it would appeal to both boys and girls even though the protagonists are both girls.
The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani
Published by Harper Collins, May 14th 2013