Goodreads: The School for Good and Evil
Series: The School for Good and Evil #1
Published: May 14, 2013
The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.
This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.
But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they 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 amongst 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…?
The School for Good & Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.
The School for Good and Evil is an appealing and innovative books; I’m not sure the idea of a fairy tale character boarding school will ever become boring for me, but Chainani manages particularly well at making this version unique. Students are gathered from local villages (read: sometimes kidnapped in the middle of the night) and brought to a school where they are told whether they will be training to be good characters or evil ones (outcome of your story completely unknown). Besides the imaginative portrayal of a school set up this way, the best part of the book may be the ultimate implication that whether someone is evil or good isn’t actually black and white. However, to get to this message, this book flip flops a lot, and the constant contradictions make the story incredibly frustrating to follow.
The first major question: Is Sophie evil or not? This is definitely supposed to be a nuanced issue. She doesn’t think so, but primarily bases her opinion on the fact she likes frilly princess clothes and overlooks that she’s actually a terribly selfish person. Agatha thinks Sophie has some redeeming qualities in her—which is probably the most likely scenario, that someone has both good and bad character traits. This seems alright…until it’s revealed that Sophie is some prophesied figure of evil incarnate. (No explanation of how simple selfishness makes you the most evil person in the world, mind you.) But, anyway…she’s definitely evil in this case. (And also more evil that characters who were specifically raised by evil to be evil and should therefore have a much more warped moral compass than she does?) After finishing the book, I still can’t explain how any of this is supposed to make sense.
By the climax of the book, everyone gets to start questioning whether they’re really good or evil. Again, this seems like a great idea. Nuance, right? But, again, the situation gets so butchered it’s hard to tell what the real message here is supposed to be at all. You see, it turns out that, in this scene at least, whether someone is good or evil literally varies action by action. So if you’re generally a nice person with virtuous intentions and you accidentally step on a frog and squish it, those good intentions go down the drain; you’re evil now and you’ll turn into an ugly witch so everyone around you can know you’re evil, too. (Let’s not even talk about how this book was also supposedly undermining the idea that evil people are ugly and like living in damp slimy places and filth.)
I enjoyed The School for Good and Evil while reading it. It features a magical boarding school, a fast-paced plot, and a strong female friendship. However, its messages about who/what is good versus who/what is evil is so mixed up that it’s impossible to tell what the final conclusion is. When I say it tries to paint a picture where these categories are gray and everyone has a little bit of both inside…I’m actually completely guessing. I think that’s what it’s trying to do because that seems logical, but I really have no way of confirming this based on what actually happens in the story. This is a nice journey, but I’ll be passing on the rest of the series because this installment left me immensely and uncomfortably bewildered.