Thursday, May 8, 2014

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

I love the idea of this book--more than one of the ideas. There is a mysterious school out in the woods that trains fairy tale characters in the ways of Good and Evil. Once a year, two children between the ages of twelve and sixteen from the village are kidnapped and taken there; at the beginning of this book, the chosen pair are Agatha, who wears black and is perpetually grumpy and Sophie, who loves pink and wants to go to the school to find her happy ending. The thing is, they end up in the "wrong" schools, and only their friendship can save them.

Before I get started: Lots of people appear to have liked this book. According to the its Goodreads' page, the book is a "New York Times Bestseller * Indie List Bestseller * Soon to be a Film from Universal Pictures * A Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2013" and etc, so clearly not everyone had the same allergic reaction I did. As for myself, I think I'm allergic.

Problem the first: What friendship? Sophie has only befriended Agatha as one of her "good deeds," and Agatha knows it. She sticks to Sophie more out of desperation than anything else, and this holds true through most of the book--Sophie keeps trying to ditch Agatha, except when Agatha's help is convenient. Agatha never makes any other friends, either. There are people who comment on their friendship, but in action? Not so much.

Problem the second: The book can't really decide how much internal beauty really matters. Oh, sure, Sophie looks good but acts evil (more on that later), but Agatha's "goodness" ultimately manifests in everyone discovering that she was beautiful all along and just needed to smile more, stand straight, and wash her hair. After that, people love her. So much for internal beauty being what matters.

Problem the third: Sophie's evil mostly consists of liking pink, trying to stay beautiful, and wanting to get away from the village. She gives facewash to orphans! The horror! She worries about her weight (gasp!) and so doesn't cook fattening meals to her father (Dreadful!). This, by the by, in a world at least as fixated on beauty and slenderness as our own.

She picks up some more recognizably evil as opposed to purely gendered traits later, courtesy of the school insisting on it (as in, severely punishing people who don't live up to their traits) but... Oh, I get angrier every time I think about Sophie's initial "evil," so I'll stoop now.

Problem the fourth: The book is dull. I started skimming after the first hundred pages or so and never did settle back down or get drawn into it. The behind-the-scenes plotting of the thoroughly pointless teachers and school owner never did draw me in, nor did the sort-of romance(s) that developed. No one other than Sophie and Agatha got more than cursory character development and theirs was, as I've mentioned, thin.

The sequel appears to focus on gender wars. I think...not.

Publication details
Published May 14th 2013 by HarperCollinsISBN 0062104896 (ISBN13: 9780062104892)

Other reviews found via Fyrefly's Book Blog Search Engine

The Literary Omnivore
A Backwards Story--who liked it a lot.
Books with Bite
So I Started Reading
And lots more

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