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