Monday, June 15, 2015

The School for Good and Evil - Soman Chainani

***Spoilers Ahead*** If you have yet to read this book, and you don't want to know what happens, read this review later.  I try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but a few tend to make their way into my reviews.

I just finished reading Soman Chainani's debut novel The School for Good and Evil.  This is the first book in a trilogy, and I have the second on my bookshelf waiting to be read as I type this!  

The basic plot of this book is that every four years, two kids from the village of Gavaldon are kidnapped and taken to the school for Good and Evil.  The kids are usually between the ages of 12 and 16.  According to legend, one kid is usually beautiful and ends up in the school for good, while the other kid is usually ugly and ends up in the school for evil.  Sophie, one of the main characters in the book, is convinced that she will go to the school for Good, while her "best friend," Agatha, will end up in the school for Evil.  Agatha, on the other hand, is convinced that Sophie is crazy, and that the School for Good and Evil does not really exist.  On the eleventh night of the eleventh month, Sophie is beautifying herself, so as to make herself ready when the school master comes to take her.  (For a 12 year old, she has the most ridiculous beauty routine ever.  It includes a minimum of 9 hours of sleep, rubbing fish eggs on her skin, then rinsing it off and rubbing multiple other things like pumpkin puree and goats milk onto her skin as well.)

As Sophie is getting ready, her father is preparing in his own way - by pounding wood over Sophie's door to prevent her from leaving and to stop anyone else from getting in and taking her.  Sophie finds this infuriating, as she desperately wants to get kidnapped and have her own fairy tale.  Well, Sophie gets away in a different manner.  See, when Agatha sneaks over to steal the cookies Sophie left on the windowsill, Sophie sneaks out, follows Agatha, and they both get kidnapped while climbing a tree.  They get taken by a giant bird to the School for Good and Evil, where, much to the shock and surprise of both girls, Agatha gets sent to the School for Good and Sophie gets sent to the School for Evil.  Anyone who can discern character well will understand that this is actually the appropriate spot for each girl. 

So, now we know where each girl ends up.  Both are convinced they are in the wrong school, and as a result, they both do poorly on their tests for a while.  Then Sophie convinces Agatha to help her, so Agatha becomes a cockroach and assists Sophie, ensuring that Sophie becomes the top student in the School for Evil, and causing Agatha's grades, which had been improving, to slip.  Over the course of the novel, Sophie and Agatha change, both finally realizing that they are in the correct schools after all.  When Agatha realizes she is in the correct school, she also gains confidence in herself and realizes she is beautiful after all.  Sophie, on the other hand, is truly, completely, 100% pure evil.  As a result of this discovery about herself, Sophie turns into a hag and administers attacks on the School for Good in an attempt to get Tedros, the boy she thinks she loves, to be with her instead of Agatha.  The drama between school ensues, reaching a high when Sophie tries to kill Agatha. 

Now, overall, I think this book was very well written.  I think the author does a great job of drawing the reader in and making them fall in love with the story.  The descriptions in the book were wonderful, really giving the reader a great idea of what the school and the characters looked like.  However, I have some worries about content in this book.

Sophie and Agatha, as well as the other students described in this book, are young.  They are 12 years old.  Now, I know that around the age of 12 is when young girls and boys start going through puberty, and experiencing all the feelings that go along with that.  However, I feel that the author sexualizes the characters way too much.  12 year olds should not be sexualized at all, because they are way to young to have sex, or to understand everything that goes along with that.  This was a big issue for me.  Chainani had characters who were talking about being in love with each other and wanting to get married and all that.  At the age they are, these kids should be more worried about learning what it means to develop, and learning about the changes their bodies are going through.  They should not be competing with each other to get the hottest date to the ball, or the best man for a husband.  It is absolutely ridiculous to expect content like that to be included in a novel for young kids. 

Also, I didn't think it was appropriate for Chainani to place such importance on the looks of the kids in this story.  There was heavy emphasis throughout the story that the only way to make a guy really like you is if you were beautiful - which is why Evers could earn the use of the Groom Room.  The Nevers, on the other hand, were taught that they would always be ugly, and that they should focus on evil things, because they would never have happy endings.  Ridiculous. 

While I think this book is well written, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend it for kids under the age of 16.  If you are a reader with a well defined sense of self, and a knowledge that being kind is better than looking beautiful, then I think you will do well reading this book.

I would give this book a C rating for good writing, but questionable content.

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