Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book review: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Book 1 in the School for Good and Evil series
Pages: 496
Publisher: Harper Collins
Received: Library
3 out of 5 stars

This started out pretty well

Ok, so fairy tales? Check. Turning stereotypes on their heads? Check. Romance? Check. Peril? Check. Magical boarding school? Check. Mysterious maybe-good, maybe-evil headmaster? Check. Strong bonds of friendship? Check.

So far so good, right?

The School for Good and Evil has a lot of stuff I really liked. I liked the characters a whole lot. And not just the two main heroines Sophie and Agatha, but also all the side characters. Or, ok, let me clarify, I really liked the side characters on Evil's side. Good? Not so much.

I also liked the magical boarding school with its Hogwarts-ish feel. Exploring the school was fun and attending classes was neat to read even if it didn't advance the plot a whole bunch.

And then

So why three stars? Because everything I liked comes with a big BUT. I liked Agatha and Sophie (especially Sophie), but they were both pretty 2-D characters. I liked the boarding school, but it was pretty flimsy all said and done. The side characters were fun, but they were even less developed than Sophie and Agatha.

Worst of all?

The worst thing was the stereotype flip. I liked the idea of taking the drab, dark, sullen character and putting her into the school for good and then taking the pretty pink princess and putting her in the school for evil. I like theory.

In practice, it didn't entirely work for me. First, it was so obvious, even without the book blurb. It took an eyerollingly slow time to get with the program. Sophie's resistance made sense and was fine (she has always had a single minded desire to be a princess), but Agatha, gah girl, how many times do you need Good's glowing light to shine on you to realize you're good.

The messages were also kind of...offensive? I say that with hesitation because I'm not really one to get offended at every little thing, but it felt like I got suckered into the idea of "Look! Princesses don't have to be beautiful to be good!" but I in fact got a strong reinforcement of the idea that yes in fact good is superficially beautiful and evil is superficially ugly.

And now I'm confused

That was super disappointing, both from a plot sense (I wanted to see a sparkling pink villain) and from a lesson sense. I'm not really sure if my takeaway is supposed to be ugly equals evil and pretty equals good?

Because isn't that exactly the stereotype? What is the point of switching their schools and turning the stereotype on its head if you're just going to circle back around and bolster the stereotype?

There also was a lot of toying around with the idea of Sophie and Agatha's friendship crossing the good/evil boundaries and...I don't know. I was expecting some kind of "true friendship conquers all" kind of thing or a tearing down of the black and white good/evil dynamic or something, but this message was just as contradictory and scattered as the ugly/pretty topic.

Even just describing this is confusing and exhausting.

Bottom line

Ultimately, I enjoyed my time reading The School for Good and Evil a lot. It's long, but it's SO easy to read and the short chapters makes it fly by. It's light, it's fun, and it (granted, inexplicably) kept me entertained. Sophie was especially fun and I think she's probably the main reason I kept reading (particularly when she started embracing evil, with her own fabulous flair).

That said, I would not say this is a particularly good book. It has a lot of weaknesses and it seems to really struggle with coming to terms with what exactly it means to say. This can be especially problematic since it's supposed to be a middle grade book and I'm not sure how the confused messages would be received by a kid that age.

The ending wraps up nicely and it seems like everything will end cleanly, and then it drops in a cliffhanger to bridge into the second book. A book I will not be reading because, while The School for Good and Evil was good enough to finish, it wasn't good enjoy to justify spending any time on the sequels.

So, best advice I can give? Don't expect much. Go in with low expectations. Don't look for a message, and don't try to make sense of what you're reading. Just go with the flow. Enjoy the zany, inconsistent, haphazard, wandering plot and thin characters for what they are. It's light and easy. Take it as such and don't look beyond the surface. 


  1. There was a lot of hype for this series, but I thought the Hogwartish boarding school was just too soon for me. It's basically what ruined the Magisterium book by Black and Clare. So, I'm going to take a pass on this and finish up the Hero's Guide series by Healy. Just finished book 2 and had to run out to get book 3 from the library.

  2. I also thought the ending completely contradicted what the rest of the book seemed to be trying to say, and was left completely baffled. I'm surprised I haven't seen more reviewers pointing out the same thing.

  3. I really liked the premise of this one when it was coming out and then attempted reading it, but I just couldn't get into it and gave up. I know you enjoyed reading this to some extent, but since you only gave it 3 stars, Small, I'm not going to try to read it again.


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