Khanh the Killjoy

So twee!

The School for Good and Evil - Soman Chainani
The boys went off to fight with swords while girls had to learn dog barks and owl hoots. No wonder princesses were so impotent in fairy tales, she thought. If all they could do was smile, stand straight, and speak to squirrels, then what choice did they have but to wait for a boy to rescue them?

If any book ever deserved to be Disney-fied, this would be it.

This book is seriously sweet. It was just delightful. It is a middle grade "alternative" fairy tale which parodies and utilizes fairy tale tropes to excellent effect, and I constantly sniggered with laughter at its tongue-in-cheek hilarity.

It is a light book, a Harry Potter-style boarding school novel based around fairy tales. It was just fucking adorable, let me tell you, but it is not too sweet at all. For a middle grade book, this story had a surprising amount of darkness and depth. It questions the nature of friendship, it questions good and evil, it tells us that it is our choices in life that matters in the long run, that our nature is self-determined.

She was Evil, always Evil, and there would never be happiness or peace. As her heart shattered with sadness, she yielded to darkness without a fight, only to hear a dying echo, somewhere deeper than soul.
It’s not what we are.
It’s what we do.

This book tells you that you do not have to be what people want you to be. There is room for change within your soul. You do not have to fit into the mold. You are capable of more than people expect. You do not have to be beautiful in order to have a beautiful spirit.

The Summary: Most children are afraid of being kidnapped. Not Sophie.

Before you judge her, realize that the "kidnapper" in question is not a man, but a being. A mythical being called the School Master rumored to capture two children every 12 years, to make them into fairy tale creatures. One good child, one bad child. Boy or girl. They will be separated from their families forever. For most children, this is a thing to be feared.

Not Sophie.

Sophie longs to be kidnapped, she has dreamt of it her entire life. She deserves to be a fairy-tale princess. And indeed, there is no one in her village who is more beautiful than Sophie. Even when she's sleep-deprived, Sophie is a vision of loveliness.

Her waist-long hair, the color of spun gold, didn’t have its usual sheen. Her jade-green eyes looked faded, her luscious red lips a touch dry. Even the glow of her creamy peach skin had dulled. But still a princess, she thought.

So lovely. But it's not effortless. As all girls know, looking good takes a fuck ton of work, and Sophie has to work at it. Her beauty routine puts mine to shame.

As for the rest of Sophie’s beauty routine, it could fill a dozen storybooks (suffice it to say it included goose feathers, pickled potatoes, horse hooves, cream of cashews, and a vial of cow’s blood).

The School Master can only pick one good child, and Sophie is determined to be it. In her quest for goodness, she befriends her polar opposite, Agatha.

Agatha can never be described, however generously, as beautiful.

Her hideous dome of black hair looked like it was coated in oil. Her hulking black dress, shapeless as a potato sack, couldn’t hide freakishly pale skin and jutting bones. Ladybug eyes bulged from her sunken face.

Sophie and Agatha may be friends, but their relationship can best be described as "passive-aggressive". The passive-aggressiveness coming entirely from Sophie.

Sophie’s eyes flashed. “You’re lucky that someone would come see you when no one else will. You’re lucky that someone like me would be your friend. You’re lucky that someone like me is such a good person.”
“I knew it!” Agatha flared. “I’m your Good Deed! Just a pawn in your stupid fantasy!”

On the night of the kidnapping, Sophie and Agatha got kidnapped, or rather, Sophie went entirely willingly and Agatha got dragged into it. Sophie expected to be accepted into The School of Good. Agatha is praying against hope that she will not be forced into the School of Evil.

It didn't exactly work out the way they planned.

Stunned, Sophie watched Agatha plummet into pink cotton-candy mist. “Wait—no—”
The bird swooped savagely towards the Towers of Evil, its jaws reaching up for new prey.
“No! I’m Good! It’s the wrong one!” Sophie screamed—
And without a beat, she was dropped into hellish darkness.

The lovely Sophie wound up in the School of Evil, a school that trains fairy-tale villains. She sticks out like a sore thumb among the hideous creatures (her fellow students).

Here was a mass of the miserable, with misshapen bodies, repulsive faces, and the cruelest expressions she’d ever seen, as if looking for something to hate. One by one their eyes fell on Sophie and they found what they were looking for. The petrified princess in glass slippers and golden curls.
The red rose among thorns.

Sophie knows what to do.

She ran for her life.

The hideous Agatha finds herself among a gaggle of pretty pretty princesses. An entire school of Sophies. She knows she doesn't belong. She knows what to do.

Agatha did the only thing she knew how to do when faced with expectations.
Up the blue Honor staircase, through sea-green halls, she ran.

Uh, no. Sadly, the school doesn't work right back. It's a magical school, y'all, and like it or not, Agatha and Sophie are there to stay. Or else. Children who fail disappear. They have to stay, they have to work at it if they are to stay alive.

Fairy tales are darker than they look, and surviving this school will take all of Sophie and Agatha's cunning. Will they manage to maintain their tenuous friendship?

The fight escalated to a ludicrous climax, with Sophie beating Agatha with a blue squash, Agatha sitting on Sophie’s head, and the class gleefully making bets as to who was who—
“Go rot in Gavaldon alone!” Sophie screamed.
“Better alone than with a phony!” Agatha shouted.
“Get out of my life!”
“You came into mine!”

Will they be able to face the danger---the darkness within the school?

“But the boys train for war in class,” a girl moaned.
“We haven’t even learned to fight!” said another.
“Would you like to be a slave to villains?” Beatrix fired back. “Made to cook children and eat princess hearts and drink horse blood—”
“And wear black?” Reena cried.
Evergirls gulped.
“Then learn quickly,” Beatrix said.

Was it a mistake to put Sophie into the School of Evil and Agatha into the School of Good? Or will both Agatha and Sophie realize that they're where they should be, all along?

The Setting: “Well, in the School for Good, they teach boys and girls like me how to become heroes and princesses, how to rule kingdoms justly, how to find Happily Ever After,” Sophie said. “In the School for Evil, they teach you how to become wicked witches and humpbacked trolls, how to lay curses and cast evil spells.”

The setting in this book is just freaking adorable. Take all the tropes you ever know about fairy tales and squish it into a book. You might expect it to be bad? No! It's not! It's fan-fucking-tastic! We have hideously warty creatures, we have snouty, socially awkward, innately evil villains in the School of Evil. We have gloriously charming and handsome boys and girls in the School of Good (who are just so full of themselves).

Tedros was used to girls watching him. But when would he find one who saw more than his looks? Who saw more than King Arthur’s son? Who cared about his thoughts, his hopes, his fears? And yet here he was, pivoted purposely as he toweled so the girls could have a perfect view.

The setting is beautiful, we have fairy tale castles and beautiful bedrooms and pretty fluffy pink candy cane shit in the School of Good, and nasty, dirty dungeons, and food you wouldn't feed to your worst enemy. There are magical geese, werewolves. Gargoyles and fairies (they bite).

And then there's the curriculum. AHAHAHA. The curriculum. Uglification, can you imagine? Poor Sophie.

The teachers are hilarious, from evil hags and witches, to an actual fucking fairy tale princess.

Princess Uma looked far too young to be a teacher. Nestled in prim grass, backlit by lake shimmer, she sat very still, hands folded in her pink dress, with black hair to her waist, olive skin, almond-shaped eyes, and crimson lips pursed in a tight O. When she did speak, it was in a giggly whisper, but she couldn’t make it through a full sentence. Every few words, she’d stop to listen to a distant fox or dove and respond with her own giddy howl or chirp.

“Oops!” she tee-heed. “I have too many friends!”

Agatha couldn’t tell if she was nervous or just an idiot.

Sophie: She's not meant to be loved. She is a character that grows on you. If you ever wanted a fairy tale trope, Sophie is IT, man. She is beautiful, she is different, she has always felt like she was meant to be a princess. And man, I felt a tremendous sense of sangfroid when Sophie got put into the School of Evil. Sophie is a devious character. Don't let her golden fair appearance fool you. She may seem fluffy in appearance, but she is not a character to be taken lightly.

Sophie was crouched over a puddle of water on the floor, singing as she applied blush in her reflection.

“I’m a pretty princess, sweet as a pea,
Waiting for my prince to marry me...”

Three bunk mates and three rats watched from across the room, mouths open in shock.

Sophie is absolutely convinced that she is in the wrong school, and we can't blame her. It is a lifelong dream, and it was dashed to the ground in one moment. Her character development is marvellous.

All these years she had tried to be someone else. She had made so many mistakes along the way. But at last, she had come home.

Agatha: Undoubtedly, the more sympathetic of the two. The hideous girl, always the hated one. She cannot look past her own appearance to see what's underneath.

Agatha prickled with shame. In this School for Good, where everyone was supposed to be kind and loving, she had still ended up alone and despised. She was a villain, no matter where she went.

Agatha's self-esteem is so low that it's below sea level. Agatha is dependent upon Sophie, in a way. They were friends before, and Agatha clings onto that friendship for so long that she nearly forgets what it means to be independent.

Agatha felt familiar shame rise. Everything in her body told her to shut the door again and hide. But this time instead of thinking of all the friends she didn’t have, Agatha thought about the one she did.
Agatha slipped into the pink parade, put on a smile...and tried to blend.

The Friendship: The friendship between Agatha and Sophie is so beautifully written. Their relationship is one fraught with power play, struggles, and they are so complex because of it. Both love one another, while deeply resenting one another, but they have one common purpose. Eventually, they realize that they have to rely upon one another to make it through.

The girls collapsed in tormented heaps.
“Ready to go home?” Agatha panted.
Sophie looked up, ghost white.
“Thought you’d never ask.”

A fantastic middle grade book, enjoyable by all ages. Highly recommended.