The School for Good and Evil is written by Soman Chainani. It was published in 2013 by HarperCollins.
This year best friends Sophie and Agatha will discover what it is to be a student at the fabled School for Good and Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairytale heroes and villains. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, Sophie 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, among handsome princes and fair maidens 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 and Evil has an interesting concept, taking the “emphasis of one trait over another” that’s prevalent in other books such as Harry Potter and Divergent and attempting to both play it straight and subvert it. So the Good school emphasizes honor while Evil emphasizes deceit, yet students in the Good school are often less good than the students in the Evil school, which plays a major role in the climax of the novel.
Yet despite the fluidity between the two, Chainini manages to keep both Good and Evil separate, in that he still manages to show the absolute aspect of Good and Evil while showing how people’s actions affect where they stand in respect to both. And he shows the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil at the end, although it’s done in a really strange way.
That strange way is that he has Good triumph over Evil, yet somehow manages to disguise it as some sort of merge of the two or as some sort of “conquering” of the differences between the schools. It’s like he was trying to say that Sophie either wasn’t Evil after all, or that what other people viewed as Evil wasn’t really Evil at all. But what I saw was an act of love overcoming an evil nature; in other words, Sophie overcame her Evil nature and performed an act of Good that was large enough to defeat the curse or spell or whatever it was that had brought her and Agatha there in the first place. So, his imagery conflicted with his apparent message, which isn’t surprising considering the relative/objective feel of the book.
Speaking of Sophie and Agatha, I really didn’t understand their friendship. At the beginning, it felt like they weren’t all that close (certainly not best friends), and then once they got to the school, suddenly they were the best of friends. To be honest, Sophie was a despicable friend, being manipulative and even slightly verbally abusive, so the whole friendship aspect I really didn’t get, and I didn’t buy that Agatha or Sophie would do all those things for the other when at the beginning of the book it felt like they merely tolerated each other because they hated everybody else their own age. It also didn’t help that I disliked Sophie in general as she lacked any and all sense.
Besides the strange ending and the relativism/objectivism back-and-forth, there were a few plot points that I thought could have been executed much more neatly, and the book as a whole was a little all over the place. I did like it, but it was odd in places and confusing in others.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade
“You there! No smirking!”
With her teacher looming, Agatha tried to concentrate and duplicate Beatrix’s perfect smile. For a second she thought she had it.
“Goodness! Now it’s a creepy grin! A smile, child! Just your normal, everyday smile!”
Happy. Think of something happy.
But all she could think of was Sophie on the Bridge, leaving her for a boy she didn’t even know.
“Now it’s positively malevolent!” Professor Anemone shrieked.
Agatha turned and saw the whole class cowering, as if expecting her to turn them all into bats. (“Do you think she eats children?” said Beatrix. “I’m so glad I moved out,” Reena sighed.)
Agatha frowned. It couldn’t have been that bad.
The School for Good and Evil was a fun, interesting take on the fairytale “norms” or even “requirements” of Good and Evil, although I found that Chainani seemed to be trying to say one thing while showing another. I’m also not sure how I feel about his take on Good and Evil as a whole. Another thing I didn’t understand was the friendship between Sophie and Agatha, since from the beginning I didn’t buy it and thought that Sophie was shallow and selfish at best, manipulative at worst—certainly not a friendship I would ever want to cheer for, although at least she gets better at the end.
You can buy this here: The School for Good and Evil