Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Girls Made of Snow and Glass book cover

Information

Goodreads: Girls Made of Snow and Glass
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: September 5, 2017

Official Summary

Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale.

Sixteen-year-old Mina is motherless, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

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Review

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a quiet yet powerful reimagining of “Snow White” that focuses on relationships rather than action. While the pacing is slow at times, the novel shines when showing readers the love between Princess Lynet and her stepmother and all the obstacles, both external and internal, they need to overcome to keep it.

The first half of the novel was my favorite because it focuses on Lynet and Mina and really delves into their hopes and dreams, their struggles, and all the forces that have made them who they are. Both have somewhat disappointing fathers, as Lynet’s is obsessed with her dead mother (to the point where he seems a bit one-dimensional as a character, to be honest) and wants Lynet to be just like her, and Mina’s father has always been out for himself; when he interacts with Mina, it’s just to get her help in obtaining something he wants.

It’s rather beautiful to read their alternating chapters, as the book shows both the past, where Mina fought to become a queen and feel she had some power in the world and over her own life, and the present, where Lynet and Mina have a loving relationship in spite of all the people who never wanted them to become close. Bashardoust’s skill really lies in drawing these complex women and in drawing all the lines that connect them to the people around them.

Because I was kind of just interested in watching the characters grow and interact, I thought things got a bit boring once the climax of the novel hit, when the “Snow White” retelling part really takes off, as Lynet flees the castle to be safe from her stepmother, etc. I do think the pacing was off here, which didn’t help. It felt slow for a while and then got fast suddenly at the end, but Lynet and Mina without each other were also simply less interesting. Bashardoust still tries to explore their feelings, their choices, their fates in this section of the book, but I just wanted them to get back together to see what happened then.

Overall, I enjoyed the book because of the deep look into interiority readers get. The “Snow White” aspect was vaguely interesting, and the magic and the world building had their moments, but I wouldn’t recommend the book for those things. If you want a book about strong female relationships or about complicated family relationships, this is a gem. If you want an original and exciting fairy tale retelling or complex magic system, there are better books to choose.

Briana
3 Stars

Why Did Snow White Eat the Poisoned Apple?

Why Did Snow White Eat the Poisoned Apple?

Introduction

As a follow-up to my popular post “Why Didn’t Cinderella Just Leave?” [her abusive stepmother’s household], today I’m answering another popular fairy tale question: Why did Snow White eat the poisoned apple?

As always, there are many versions of “Snow White,” as well as many modern retellings, and some authors might try to tackle the question more directly by offering reasons or justifications why Snow White would do something that seems so obviously dangerous to readers. My post is based on the Brothers Grimm version of the story, “Little Snow-White.”

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Snow White Is Just a Child

The first thing to note about the Grimms’ version of “Snow White” is that Snow White is seven years old, which itself might provide an answer as to why she would do something that seems incredibly naive. She’s a very young child! In the Disney adaptation, which more people may be familiar with, Snow White is fourteen, but still relatively young, barely a high schooler in the modern age. However, I think the fact Snow White has faced direct danger (the huntsman trying to kill her) and knows her stepmother is out to get her but still is trusting enough to take food from a stranger means there’s something going on besides her young age.

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…But She Never Seems to Learn Her Lesson

Snow White’s apparent naivete is actually worse in the Grimm’s version of the fairy tale than in the Disney adaptation. While viewers watching Disney are likely frustrated Snow White takes an apple after literally just being warned not to let any strangers in the house because her stepmother is out to kill her, her choice to eat the poisoned apple seems even more absurd in the traditional fairy tale–because she only takes the apple after being tricked/harmed by her stepmother two previous times!

In the Brothers Grimm story, the evil queen first disguises herself as an old woman pedaling wares who offers to let Snow White try on a beautiful corset–then laces it so tightly Snow White can no longer breathe and passes out. Again, Snow White was just warned by the dwarves not to let anyone in, but she she goes with her gut instead of her brain and thinks that someone who looks so honest (and innocently elderly?) must be trustworthy:

“I can let that honest woman in,” thought Snow-White, then unbolted the door and bought the pretty bodice lace.

Nearly dying and learning that even people who look honest might not be honest does not teach Snow White a lesson, however. The dwarves need to leave the house again, and they remind her not to let anyone in a again:

When the dwarfs heard what had happened they said, “The old peddler woman was no one else but the godless queen. Take care and let no one in when we are not with you.”

When a different kindly old woman shows up with more pretty baubles to sell, Snow White remembers what happened last time only for a moment before relenting and letting the stranger in:

Snow-White looked out and said, “Go on your way. I am not allowed to let anyone in.”

“You surely may take a look,” said the old woman, pulling out the poisoned comb and holding it up. The child liked it so much that she let herself be deceived, and she opened the door.

She’s practically dead until the dwarves come back and take the comb out of her hair. So with these two new near-death experiences under her belt, one really does wonder, Why does she eat the apple?

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Is the Apple Different?

When the evil stepmother comes to the dwarves’ cottage a third time, this time as a old woman selling apples, Snow White seems ready to stick to her guns (though she oddly phrases her reason for not letting the woman in as being based on instructions from the dwarves, not her own reservations about trusting strangers after having been nearly killed twice quite recently):

Snow-White stuck her head out the window and said, “I am not allowed to let anyone in. The dwarfs have forbidden me to do so.”

“That is all right with me,” answered the peasant woman. “I’ll easily get rid of my apples. Here, I’ll give you one of them.”

“No,” said Snow-White, “I cannot accept anything.”

The stepmother does try to eliminate some possible objections. First, in the quote above, she offers to give Snow White an apple instead of selling it to her (though money never appears to be an issue). When Snow White still refuses, she points out the obvious and laughs, suggesting it would be absurd to think that the apple is dangerous:

“Are you afraid of poison?” asked the old woman. “Look, I’ll cut the apple in two. You eat the red half, and I shall eat the white half.

Eating half of the apple does seem like a good way to demonstrate that it is safe and not poisoned. Snow White didn’t have any assurances that the bodice or the comb were safe, but in this case she does seem to get some proof the apple is safe. However, I still don’t think rational reasoning has anything to do with Snow White’s choice here; obviously it would be safest to not eat the apple or to take it, say it will be saved for later, and then throw it away.

Personally, I think the difference between the apple and the first two tricks is that the apple is more obviously magical. The evil queen goes into a special, secret room of her castle to create the apple, which she did not do for the bodice or comb, and the narrator says that “anyone who saw it would want it.” That might not be a throwaway line about how lovely and delicious it looks, but rather an indication that it’s magically tempting.

That temptation seems to be the key (and, of course, apples have been a symbol temptation since the Garden of Eden). Snow White’s ability to resist the lure of the apple lessens the longer she looks at it. She is said to “long” for it, whereas she seemed to have simply thought the bodice and comb were pretty:

Now the apple had been so artfully made that only the red half was poisoned. Snow-White longed for the beautiful apple, and when she saw that the peasant woman was eating part of it she could no longer resist, and she stuck her hand out and took the poisoned half. She barely had a bite in her mouth when she fell to the ground dead.

While I think it’s fair to say Snow White was tricked the first two times because she’s absurdly trusting for someone who knows her stepmother is out to murder her, I do think she is less at fault in the case of the apple. She eats it because there is strong magic attached to it that makes her want to eat it.

What Do You Think?

Does Snow White eat the apple because she’s too trusting? Just stupid? Or overwhelmed by powerful magic?


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Briana

The Truest Heart by E. D. Baker

Information

Goodreads: The Truest Heart
Series: The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker #3
Source: Purchased
Published: October 11, 2016

Official Summary

Born to be a tooth fairy, Cory Feathering has been busy proving there’s another life meant for her — one of matchmaking! She’s already helped Marjorie Muffet and Goldilocks find true love, and now it’s Mary Lambkin’s turn. When Cory has a vision of Mary with one particular boy, Cory knows exactly what to do.

But it’s Cory’s own personal life that needs help. The Fairy Guilds are constantly hounding her, furious that she’s abandoned the guild she was born into in favor of choosing her own path. They won’t stop until justice has been served. As Cory prepares to fight for what she believes in, she must decide once and for all if she’s prepared to take on the responsibility of her biggest role yet, one that will change her destiny forever.

Review

I’ve been enjoying E. D. Baker’s Fairy-Tale Matchmaker series so far (review for book 1), with my only concern being that the protagonist is much older than the normal middle grade protagonist.  (She’s looking for a job and even thinking about marriage as the series progresses.)  The stories, however, are light and fun–even with the ongoing theme of bullying–and combine fun fairy tale references and elements into a unique story.  It’s therefore with a heavy heart I must admit I thought this third installment in the series was just okay.

All the favorite characters from the first two books are present, and Cory continues to work on her matchmaking and play with her band.  However, the plot really flattens and the pace slows because the guild harassment has become so bad at this point in the series that Cory must give up her odd jobs–the things that really brought some spice to the series, particularly in the first book.  Indeed, several characters encourage Cory to barely leave her house until the danger is past, and though she does flout this advice (thank goodness, or nothing would happen in the book!), the story is really just an endless list of mean things that guild members do to her.  It feels very episodic and as if there’s not much progression towards anything.

Weirdly, after not much happening, I did get such a distinct sense that enough was wrapped up in the final chapters of the book that I suspected this might be the end of the series.  (But no, I checked on Goodreads, and a fourth book is planned for fall 2017.)  I was somewhat entertained by this book, and I enjoyed reading it, but it just doesn’t hold up to the magic of the first two books. I’m hoping for more from the fourth.

Note: You do have to read the entire series for this book really to make sense. I’ve noticed several Goodreads reviewers post dissatisfied reviews because they read this book and not the first two.  I don’t recommend that because this is not a series where the books can essentially function as standalones.

Briana

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

School for Good and EvilINFORMATION

Goodreads: The School for Good and Evil
Series: The School for Good and Evil #1
Source: Gift
Published: 2013

SUMMARY

Every four years, two children disappear from the village of Galvadon, whisked away in the night by the School Master.  The villagers believe the children attend the School for Good and Evil, where one child learns to become a fairy tale hero and the other a fairy tale villain.  Sophie longs for the day the School Master comes to take her away to attend the School for Good, where she will wear beautiful gowns and meet her own prince.  She assumes Agatha, the weird girl who lives by the graveyard, will become a witch.  But when the School Master comes for the children, he drops Agatha in the School for Good and Sophie in the School for Evil.  How can Sophie correct this mistake and end up where she truly belongs?

Review

A School for Good and Evil plays with the tropes of fairy tales, introducing readers to a world where children are marked as “good” or “evil” and sent to school to learn the skills and attributes appropriate to their category.  Informed that they are chosen for the state of their souls, the children naturally wonder if no one truly has a choice.  Readers will wonder even more, for it is obvious from the start that the School for Good is full of vain, petty, catty, and dishonest individuals.  The School for Evil, meanwhile, is certainly full of hideous children who speak of their desire for vengeance–but some of them are more loyal friends than the princes and princesses in the School for Good!  Where are the lines drawn between the two–and who decides?

Complicating this set-up is Sophie, who fervently believes she belongs in Good because she is beautiful.  Yes, Sophie is vain, stuck-up, shallow, and incredibly selfish.  She uses people to get what she wants.  But does that make her evil?  The book juxtaposes her with Agatha, who ostensibly (according to Sophie) was placed in the wrong school because she likes black, seldom smiles, and likes morbid things.  But one cannot really question her placement.  Agatha is obviously an honest, loyal person who would sacrifice herself for others.  Yet her virtue is shaded by her willingness to cheat, break the rules, and lie to try to save Sophie and get the two of them home.

The book does not address all these issues as directly as I would like, but it does raise them, and it gives the book depth even as readers can delight in all thing fairy-tale that Chainani inserts for fun–he seems enjoy coming up with magical creatures and spells to fill his world.  Issues of gender roles are also raised, as Agatha chafes against the Etiquette and Animal Speaking classes she must take while the boys learn sword fighting. No wonder princesses need to be rescued, she thinks–no one teaches them how to defend herself.  And then she muses that the villains of all people seem to make no such gendered distinctions!  (I think this is not to say that only villains eschew gender roles as the text repeatedly plays with these roles and shows Agatha as a subject with agency who is willing to fight and get dirty for what she thinks is right. She even gives orders to the princes, much to their dismay.)

Some of the messages in the end seem a little mixed–is Sophie evil or just a product of her environment?  Is Tedros a worthy prince or really kind of pompous and insecure?  Are any of the Good characters really that good?  We don’t see them do much right and when they do do things, it seems to be for glory and vanity–but aside from some exasperated remarks from the professors, no one questions this and the balance of the world between Good and Evil remains intact, so…the school placements are correct?  Or does it even matter who is placed where as long as the numbers work out?

I’m hoping the sequels will delve more into this questions of morality and the questions of gender. I think the books can work more with both, especially interrogating the way fairy tales do tend to rely on gendered stereotypes.  Will the characters accept or subvert them and why?  What are the possible repercussions of each? Maybe the sequels will disappoint and again address issues only obliquely, but I am invested enough in this world to give the sequels a try.4 stars

Krysta 64

The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker by E. D. Baker

Fairy Tale MatchmakerInformation

Goodreads: The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker
Series: Fairy-Tale Matchmaker #1
Source: Library
Published: October 7, 2014

Summary

Tired of the dangers of the human world, Cory Feathering quits the Tooth Fairy Guild and decides to pursue a different career. She’s had visions of some of her friends together, so perhaps she can become a matchmaker. (If only her visions would be a bit less blurry!) She knew her mother, proud tooth fairy to the core, would be upset with her, but she had no idea the Guild itself would persecute her and sabotage every new job she tries.

Review

The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker follows young Cory Feathering as she tries to find a job that makes a difference in the world. (What’s the point of collecting teeth anyway?!) The story takes Cory through a number of odd jobs and paths through the fairy world as she searches for the one thing she would like to make a career. Seeing beloved fairy tale characters in a new light—as people who need to hire babysitters or someone to mow their lawns—is tons of fun, but the entire premise of the story is an odd choice for a middle grade novel. One girl’s search for the perfect career is something that will speak more to recent college graduates than to middle school students.

Cory’s characterization definitely suffers from the disconnect between the intended audience and the subject matter. Although Cory is never given an age, the book hints she is a teen; the fairy school system seems to include graduating from Junior Fey School and then starting job training, without any equivalent of high school or college. Yet implying that Cory a teen does not mean she has teen concerns; finding a job, moving out of home, worrying about paying rent and other bills are all issues that will speak mostly to readers in their young twenties.

Adding confusion to this mess is the fact that Cory sounds more like a tween than either a teen or young adult. When sending her resignation later to the Tooth Fairy Guild, she simply writes, “I quit!” When inquiring about a help-wanted ad in the paper, she sends a missive that says, “Who are you?” While these scenes might be intended to add humor to the novel, they simply make Cory seem immature and as if she does not know how to look for a job at all. As an older reader who actually does have similar concerns as Cory, I am mainly irritated she can manage to be hired by multiple people while acting so unprofessionally.

The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker does have some fun moments. It is interesting to see new perspectives on the other characters Cory meets, who include everyone from Little Miss Muffet to Humpty Dumpty to the Three Little Pigs. Cory also gets into some entertaining scrapes while performing odd jobs around the fairy world. I will be reading the sequel, The Perfect Match, to find out what happens next. I just struggle with categorizing the book because it seems designed to please adults more than children, and I have difficultly imagining what type, age, or reading-level of child I would recommend this to.

Briana

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

darkest part of the forestInformation

Goodreads: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: January 13, 2015

Official Summary

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Review

Superficially speaking, The Darkest Part of the Forest should be a fantastic book. It is imaginative and bold, willing to talk about tough subjects like sexuality, moral culpability, and parental neglect while immersing readers into a world that is both dark and beautiful. Unfortunately, the book really only touches on most of these hard subjects, telling readers they are difficult, that the characters are struggling with them—but ultimately failing to make it seem as if the characters are truly engaged with them. There is breadth but no depth.

All the characters ostensibly have something to hide. Hazel wants to be a hero but doesn’t know how, and worries she might actually be villain. Her brother Ben has a magical gift he cannot control; he’d rather squash it and just find someone to fall madly in love with, who will take him away. Jack, a changeling, has been adopted by humans but yearns for his faerie roots. Combine this with an entire town, a plethora of adults, who know they are living on the borders of dangerous magic but refuse to acknowledge it, and things are really a mess.

However, for as much as the characters talk about their problems, ponder them, dwell and drown in them—none of them really caught my attention. On the surface, I understand I should be horrified by this town, by the murders the faeries commit and the way the townsfolk ignore them or victim blame. Yet…if no one in the world of the story, people who should be profoundly affected by murders in their town can find it in them to care or worry or grieve, it’s doubly hard for me as a reader to do it. The same is true of so many of the issues raised in the book. Hazel’s and Ben’s parents are guilty of neglect, but Hazel and Ben are over it. The abuse mainly acts as a plot point to explain why the two were allowed to roam the woods and hunt faeries as young children, not as something I’m supposed to see as a real concern. The same goes for Hazel’s and Ben’s romantic issues. The two may throw out some moving lines about how they fear trusting someone or just want someone to love, but as far as I can tell their strings of failed romances also act more as plot movers than character development. I just didn’t empathize with either of them.

And as far as plot goes, enough happens that theoretically the book should be interesting. Hazel, Ben, and Jack tromp all over town hunting monsters, a few people die, a few plot twists are thrown out. Yet, in the end, I was bored. Caring about the action really hinges on caring about the characters. The town in ostensibly in danger, but the journey is in truth about how Hazel and Ben come to find themselves. Fairfield seems small, and one gets the distinct sense that if people were really in danger, the entire town could just pack up and move. I think the faeries would be happy with that. No one would be pursued, and the story would just end.

I wish I could like this book better, but with characters that fail to seem real and a plot that didn’t really need to happen, I found the story disappointing. For those looking for stories about faeries, I recommend The Treachery of Beautiful Things.

Briana

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth (ARC Review)

The Wild GirlInformation

Goodreads: The Wild Girl
Series: None
Source: Shelf Awareness
Publication Date: July 7, 2015

Official Summary

Dortchen Wild fell in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she saw him.

Growing up in the small German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in early Nineteenth century, Dortchen Wild is irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the young and handsome fairy tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm.

It is a time of War, tyranny and terror. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land.

Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories, such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’ and ‘Six Swans’. As she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms. Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen’s father has other plans for his daughter. Marriage is an impossible dream.

Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales.

Review

Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl is one of those books that has a fantastic premise that the story and prose never quite do justice to.  The book tells the story of Dortchen Wild, her romance with Wilhelm Grimm, and her love for fairy tales. It apparently has everything that someone like me, a fan of strong women characters, historical fiction, and retold fairy tales, would love.  However, its apparent selling point is also its demise; the book strives to be so many things–a romance, a historical fiction, a repository of fairy tales, a coming of age story, even women’s fiction–that it fails to do most of those things particularly well.  The result is a novel that has some strong ideas and very beautiful moments, but comes across as unfocused as a whole.

Marketing is hyping up the fairy tale aspects of the novel, but they are actually somewhat understated in the story itself.  Dortchen herself rarely demonstrates a personal interest in the stories.  She claims to have enjoyed them as a child, but during the novel uses them primarily as excuses to flirt with Wilhelm, as he is collecting old local stories for a book.  She draws a clear parallel between herself and a fairy tale only once, but Wilhelm later uses it better, as if he is, contrary to all Dortchen’s claims, he is the one who understands the value of a good story best of all.  Additionally, fairy tales are more often alluded to than retold in the novel, which is probably fun for readers who understand the allusions, but may be frustrating for readers who are not and want to be let into the club.

Much more emphasis is placed on the romance of the novel.  For a long while, however, the “romance” is really just Dortchen’s hopeless crush on Wilhelm.  It begins early, both in the book and in her life, which means that for a large chunk of the novel the audience has no way of knowing this is supposed to be serious, that it is something to be invested in, not a childish infatuation that will eventually go away.  Unfortunately, the summary/book jacket have to do the work of telling the audience this is important, because the story itself does not.  Once Wilhelm confesses his love for Dorothea, they go pretty quickly to making out, which may be a disappointment for readers who want more romantic tension in the form of an actual courtship.

Historical events also form a large part of the novel.  Often, but not always, the lengthy explanations of what armies are moving where are related to what happens in the lives of Dortchen and her family.  These passages sometimes bog down the pace of the story.

The story, however, does successfully manage a large cast of characters.  Dortchen and Wilhelm both have large families, and eery single sibling and parent gets their fair share of screen time.  Everyone is developed and complex.  Readers may easily find that their favorite character is not one of the protagonists.  This also means there are a few side romances, some of which are more romantic and some less than Dortchen’s and Wilhelm’s.  This may all be a result of more historical research on Forsyth’s part, but she does put in the effort of managing all the characters and their details.

The Wild Girl has a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads (having already been released in Australia). It is obviously a successful novel with lots of fans.  However, I found it tries to do too much and ends up a bit flat and muddled as a result.  I like the idea but think the execution can be improved.

Briana

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

School for Good and EvilInformation

Goodreads: The School for Good and Evil
Series: The School for Good and Evil #1
Source: Purchased
Published: May 14, 2013

Official Summary

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.

Review

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.