Series: Fairy Tale Reform School #1
After Cinderella became a princess, her stepmother Flora repented of her actions and founded the Fairy Tale Reform School to help mold the criminals of Enchantastia into productive members of society. Twelve-year-old Gilly, convicted on three counts of petty theft, thinks she can break the joint after three months. But as she settles into her new life and makes new friends, Gilly begins to realize that trouble is brewing at the school. Are the teachers there truly reformed? And if they aren’t, is Gilly willing to risk her life to save Enchantasia or is she still just a thief out for herself?
Fairy tale characters attending school together seems to be a new trend in middle-grade novels but Flunked sets itself apart from fare like the Grimmtastic Girls and the Everafter High series by downplaying the fairy tale roles of its characters. Indeed, despite the name of Gilly’s new acacemy–the Fairy Tale Reform School–the characters show no evidence of knowing they are fairy tale characters. The setting, then, is very much a straight-forward fantasy world, one that just happens to feature characters with familiar names.
One might question the point of featuring fairy tale characters divorced from their stories instead of generic fantasy villains. The device, however, allows readers to recognize the crimes (and their severity) of many of the starring villains without the necessity of providing detailed background stories. Because readers know these characters, Jen Calonita is free to tell Gilly’s tale, rather than focus on everyone else’s. But besides that, it’s just fun to imagine the Big Bad Wolf as a beloved teacher or Snow White’s Evil Queen leading group therapy sessions.
Initially I feared I would not Gilly’s story very much. She follows in the footsteps of many a literary thief, proving sarcastic and somewhat boastful, even though her thieving skills leave much to be desired. Holding extended conversations with the target and committing the crime in the shop of a man who knows you (and your reputation) seem rather foolish, as does Gilly’s proclivity for answering accusations with the first insulting or snippy thing that she thinks. She seems to mistake sarcasm and insults for strength, even though every time she opens her mouth, she only digs her hole deeper. I wondered how I would ever make it through an entire book of her extremely not-witty retorts.
Gilly, however, proves to have a very compelling character arc, transforming through the story from a sarcastic petty thief to a caring young woman intent on doing the right thing, even if it hurts her. She furthermore learns to see past her prejudices and to accept people for who they are rather than judge them based on their social standing. By the end, she is truly a heroine readers can begin to rally behind.
Flunked offers a compelling world full of sympathetic characters and just the right bit of mystery and danger. Even though I would have enjoyed this book as a standalone, it possesses a world interesting enough (mixing as it does, a little bit of politics with its fantasy), that I can be enticed back for another visit.