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The School for Good and Evil - Soman Chainani

Once upon a time, in a land far away…

How many times have we seen our dear, precious stories from childhood start that way? How many times have we read about beautiful princesses, tricked by a witch, or a goblin, or other nasty creatures, and eventually saved by the prince and lived a "Happily Ever After"? How many times have we wished for our own fairy tale ending, to have our own prince swoop us up and run off towards the horizon?

I, for one, during my early years, wished for that a lot. I sighed, imagined, daydreamed. I even fantasized about being Ariel and having my very own Prince Eric (call me creepy, but hey! I was young!), about having to live in a big castle with luscious gardens and with servants tending to my wants and needs left and right (this got amplified when I visited some castles in France and Germany. They were absolutely beautiful).

So, what do these have to do with The School for Good and Evil?

Imagine all the things you've seen in fairy tales. The princesses, princes, evil witches, henchmen, sidekicks, talking animals and beanstalks. Take all of that, add a few others more, put them in this book, divide them between good and evil, make competitions who are the best in such and such, in which the highest tier of the groups will become the wealthy, just king/prince and the sorcerers and witches, and the bottom of the can the ponies/mice and cockroaches.

And then what?

THEN MAKE FUN OF THEM!

Ladies and gentlemen, the closest thing in pop culture that I could think this book is similar to is Shrek, not just because of the many fairy tale references (and that the school is responsible for the fairy tale characters becoming who they are), but also because of its subtle mockery of the clichés and stereotypes common in these stories. I, for one, laughed a lot and amused myself greatly.

At the School of Good, we have princesses who think of their beauty and their princes, and we have princes who think of their macho-ness and their princesses. There, they have classes on Animal Communication, Chivalry, Beautification and the like. At the School of Evil, we have the sons and daughters of brutes, witches, and evil sorcerers past, who are ugly, who bask in the negativity of everything, and who would study hard in Uglification, Henchmen Training, Curses and Death Traps for a wart or two (yes, in one of their classes, if you correctly answer something, you get a wart plastered on your face! A wart on the chin would make you fearsome!).

These were all so ridiculous, yet so true in many fairy tale stories we've come to know and love, that I found myself laughing at every chapter. And oh, when the princes appeared, and the knight in shining armour Prince Tedros came out with a "…halo of celestial gold, eye blue as a cloudless sky, skin the color of hot desert sand, he glistened with a noble sheen, as if his blood ran purer than the rest," I imagined this:



(Not that he's really like that, mind you… but with all the mockery going on, I couldn't help it!)

It became even more priceless in the eyes of Agatha and Sophie, two readers not from the magical, fairytale realm, who were kidnapped from the outside world and taken to this very place for reasons unknown. Sophie had wanted this all her life, and like the other princesses, she cared a lot about her beauty, about her prince, about becoming a princess. Agatha, on the other hand, had lived all alone, friendless, at the town cemetery, where she thought of dark things and cheered villains for their quest of power. You'd think Sophie would go to Good, and Agatha to Evil, but it turned out it was the other way around!

I loved Agatha's dry wit and humor. She thought all the princesses were shallow, and was wary of their extreme devotion to handsome, golden boys, make-up kits, and gowns. I couldn't help but find her adorable and endearing, with her snark, sarcasm, and hatred for anything girly. To be honest, even though she may like dark things and whatnot, she was more "Good" than the princesses and princes with their snobby and shallow personalities, and every time she was treated with condescension, I couldn't help but think, "How can these people be Good? If you're really a Good, shouldn't you help others in need?" I was rooting for her from the very beginning, hoping that she'd be able to teach these superficial kids a lesson on how to be a real Good.

Sophie… well… Sophie is Sophie and she is NOT Good at all. I couldn't stand this girl. She went from annoying to downright unbearable to absolutely horrible, but even though that's the case, her character development was one of the best I've ever seen. Her development from bad to worse even overpowered that of Agatha's. You'd probably be asking how I've come to this conclusion when she's the "villain" of the two, but it's true! Sophie's desire to be a princess and have her own prince placed her in a lot of trouble, putting a dent not only in her dream to be with Tedros and be a princess, but also in her friendship with Agatha. I couldn't help but hate this girl so much with her antics, but in the end, if you look at the overall context of the story, it would all make sense, and you don't need to like her in order to appreciate her "growth". One thing is for sure, this girl makes the whole reading experience a hellish ride. She was bad, yes, but she was misguided at the same time, and you'll feel sorry for her for it.

In the end, though, this book is more than just a story about fairy tales and how they came to be. It's a story of love, magic, and ultimately, friendship. A friendship that goes beyond mere looks, that forgives, that helps and listens; a friendship that looks into each other's hearts and understands despite your faults and misconceptions. Sure, Sophie made me see red. Agatha made me want to cry for her. But the ending… wow. The ending was awesome. The rollercoaster ride of intense emotions was well worth it just for that ending.

So, all in all, this book will make you smile, laugh, cry, mad, and will make your heart tight with so many conflicting emotions. I absolutely recommend this to those who'd want an original take on fairy tales and magic, and to those who'd want to read a touching story of friendship.

…they kissed, and they lived happily ever after.

An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my thoughts in any way. Thanks for copy, HarperCollins!

P.S. The drawings are preeeeeetty! For best results, right click the images and click Open Image in New Tab, so you'll see it in a higher resolution :D

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