Monday, September 14, 2015

The School for Good and Evil

by Soman Chainani

Story summary: I'm very lazy and don't feel like doing a summary of my own, so Goodreads it is:
"With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she'll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.
The two girls soon 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 among 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?"

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • Focuses on a female friendship in a non-cliched, non-boring way.
  • It's surprisingly complex, for a kids books with such a dichotomy in the title. (This book has been on my radar for a long time, but I could not get myself to read it because it seemed like it was going to be simplistic and boring. I don't think the title helps with that.)

And Why You Might Not:
  • It is still a little simplistic, especially in writing style.
  • The relationship complications caused through lack of communication can get tiresome. It's annoying when problems could be solved so easily if people just talked to each other, even a little bit. Though saying this, it isn't actually very bad in this book--it's the sequels where it really started to bother me.
Thoughts: I was greatly surprised by this book. Even though I'd read several trustworthy reviews talking about how good it was, I still couldn't get past this impression that it was simplistic and boring. But fortunately, I needed a book with antonyms in the title for the PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge I'm doing this year, and this was the only one that came to mind. I am so very glad, because this was so much fun.

There were a number of aspects I especially liked:
  • The friendship between the two main characters was at the center of this book. There was romance and action too, but it's so refreshing to find a book where there are two main female characters that are both important and interesting.  (This handily passes the Bechdel test, so that's cool.) And rarely do you find female bromances* that aren't silly and gossipy and are actually as interesting as male bromances. (And I can confirm from personal experiences that women really can have bromances.)
  • And the girls themselves are great. Sophie is funny and confident and Agatha is grumpy and unusual.
  • The "issues" (e.g. What is true beauty and goodness?) were treated more complexly than I expected for a kids book like this. Take for example, Agatha's growing appreciation for pretty, girly things. It seems to me that in many other books/movies, this would either be treated as "Finally she's using makeup and is pretty!" (as in The Princess Diaries), or it would be "Be yourself! You don't need to change anything!" (can't think of a specific example, but you also see this lots). In this book, however, Agatha think her looks were completely changed, and this opinion is confirmed by everyone commenting on how good she looks. Turns out it was her happiness and complete change in attitude that did this though. And then after this, she starts to enjoy things such as dresses/makeup as well. I have strong opinions on prettiness, and at the core of them is the idea that people's character and inward joy really can influence their physical attractiveness. And this isn't in a "Goodness is beautiful!" kind of way--I'm really talking pure physicality here.
  • The romance was cute! I actually kind of liked it; that surprised me. (I wonder if I'm getting over my issues against a lot of romance, or am I just getting better at finding books that I'll enjoy in that respect? Though, note, it gets a bit too convoluted for my taste in the later books in this series, which I have now read.)

I now want to talk briefly about something that happens right at the end. It's a striking and interesting part of the book, and I actually have some thoughts on it, so I really want to discuss it a bit. However it's full of spoilers, so I'm going to put it in rot13. Translate at your own risk.

X, fb ng gur pyvznk, Ntngun xvffrf Fbcuvr--ba gur yvcf naq rirelguvat--naq gurl unir gurve "unccvyl rire nsgre" jvgu rnpu bgure vafgrnq bs inevbhf cevaprf. Guvf vf abg va nal jnl gerngrq nf rebf, be n ebznagvp eryngvbafuvc. Rira guebhtu nyy gur eryngvbafuvc ghezbvy bs gur frdhryf, Ntngun naq Fbcuvr ner arire gerngrq nf n ebznagvp vgrz. Crefbanyyl, V guvax guvf vf snohybhf. V guvax bhe phygher unf n fnq ynpx bs culfvpny pbagnpg, rkprcg va ebznagvp eryngvbafuvcf jurer rirelbar vf fhccbfrq gb unir nyy fbeg bs culfvpny pbagnpg nyy gur gvzr.
Vg erzvaqf zr bs n obbx pnyyrq "Fcvaqyr'f Raq" ol Ebova ZpXvayrl, jurer n fvzvyne guvat unccraf (nygubhtu gung bar vf n yvggyr zber fgnaqneq va gung gur urebvar qbrf raq hc va n "unccvyl rire nsgre" jvgu n znyr).

Grade: 3 1/2 stars (note: it may have been 4 stars, but I read the sequels before writing this review and they coloured my perception of this book as well)

*"Womances" sounds stupid and I refuse to use it.


Brian Dennison said...

This makes me want to read it, so I won't translate the "rot 13" stuff even though it's very intriguing. Your comment on womances made me laugh.

RED said...

Thanks for commenting. :) Let me know if you like it when you've read it. The rot13 isn't SUPER interesting or anything, it's just something that I'd been thinking about previously, so this thing in the book was a nice jumping off point for ruminating on that.