The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

schoolforgoodandevil

“The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before.  Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each.  The ages were just as fickle; one could be sixteen, the other fourteen, or both just turned twelve.  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.”

Agatha is grim and gray and lives in a graveyard, while Sophie dresses only in pink and spends her days doing Good Works-together, they look the perfect picture of Good vs. Evil.  Thus, it’s no surprise when the pair is kidnapped and sent away to the legendary School for Good and Evil.  There, they will learn the fundamentals of fairy tales and what it takes to be the heroine or the villain in their beloved stories.  The very best students end up as stories, penned by the mysterious Storian, which then are  distributed all over the country.  In Sophie and Agatha’s tale, who will triumph?  Good has won for over two centuries…can Evil ever really win?  Furthermore, can anyone ever be all good or all evil?

All right, I have got to tell it to you straight:  for about half of the time while I was reading, I actively disliked this book.  For the other half of the time, I could see its charm.  This is a creative Harry Potter-esque magical boarding school fantasy, and it’s definitely going to appeal to readers clamoring for more fairy tale magic.  However, I took issue with several things.  First of all, it’s nearly 500 pages, and a bit convoluted-I have to say that several times, I needed to flip back to figure out what was going on.  But that’s all right-a more motivated reader could surely sort through the loose plot elements.

More seriously, I was upset with the book’s underlying theme of Good = Beautiful and Evil = Ugly.  There are repeated comments about obesity and physical deformities that I found both unnecessary and hurtful to readers.  When combined with the heteronormative “All Princesses Need is A Prince” message (during the story, the Good Girls are all waiting for their dream prince to ask them to the ball), I lost patience with the book. Really, this could have been great-there is a lovely twist ending that almost redeems the rest of the story, but it came too little, too late for me.

Happy Reading!

Book website (You can apply to the School for Good and Evil here!)

Chainani, Soman. The School for Good and Evil. Harper: New York, 2013. 488 pp. Ages 11 and up.

If it sounds like something you’d like to read (because there are some awesome parts to it, like the great school descriptions and the interesting fairy tale remixes), I’d recommend it with some other great feminist, body-positive texts, like these:

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley (a great graphic novel!)

Ever and Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

and, an oldie but goodie-Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea

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The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

replacement“I hadn’t given away my secret because I didn’t even know how to say the secret out loud.  No one did.  Instead, they hung on to the lie that the kids who died were actually their kids and not just convincing replacements.  That way, they never had to ask what happened to the real ones.

That was the code of the town-you didn’t talk about it, you didn’t ask.  But Tate had asked anyway.  She’d had the guts to say what everyone else was thinking-that her true, real sister had been replaced by something eerie and wrong.  Even my own family had never been honest to come right out and say that.”

Mackie is a changeling, a replacement for a stolen baby.  His family, along with the entire town of Gentry, would like to continue acting as though this never happened, as though the town’s children did not sometimes disappear from their cribs, to be replaced with darker and more unnatural beings.  Of course, Mackie wishes he could ignore it, too, and that he could just be normal and play his guitar and never have to worry about how blood and metal make his head spin.  But when his friend (and love interest) loses her baby sister to Gentry’s underworld, he knows it’s time that someone acted.  He knows it’s time to stop keeping secrets.

Oh, I am so weak for paranormal stories, especially when they involve little children.  And young adult fiction is the perfect place for finding these stories, as the gore and shockingly sad endings are usually rare!  This particular book was a dark and interesting diversion, written by a Colorado author.  I’d been wanting to read it for months.  You’ll like the eerie premise:  as the story unfolds, you’ll learn that the town of Gentry is at the mercy of two feuding spirit sisters, and that townspeople have mutely accepted the child-switching as a price to pay for their relative good fortune.  It’s quite creepy, a bit gruesome (but blood makes me dizzy, anyway), and an original take on the changeling story.  Readers looking for romance will find it, readers looking to ignore it will find that possible, too.

I have a single small issue with the book.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bring it up, but I found it quite jarring.  At two points in the text, young women are referred to as “tart” and “hookers”, and you know what?  It is absolutely not ok. This is the kind of language that perpetuates violence against women, and it was a great disappointment to see it used unnecessarily in the story.

Aside from that, this is a ghoulish and creative tale of a cursed town and the dark forces at play beneath it.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://brennayovanoff.com/

Yovanoff, Brenna. The Replacement. Razor Bill, New York, 2010.  343 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you should check out Chimeanother paranormal fiction book with a similar premise.  And then Half World, and then there’s Libba Bray’s new book (it looks so good!!) called  The Diviners, which totally looks like it has some good creepiness in it.  Or,  how about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children?  Or any book out there with a dark gray cover and crows, or girls in puffy dresses, or blood on the cover-this is a hugely popular genre right now (lucky for me!) Oh, and there’s Huntress by Malinda Lo; it’s a small part of the plot, but there’s a changeling there, too.

For the younger readers looking for creepy, try A Drowned Maiden’s Hairor (next up on my list) Picture the Dead.