The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, by Nikki Loftin, was published in 2012 by Razorbill (Penguin).
When Lorelei’s old school mysteriously burns down, a new one appears practically overnight: Splendid Academy. Golden bowls of candy in every desk? Mouth-watering cafeteria meals, served by waiters? Optional homework and two recess periods a day? This place is every kid’s dream! But Lorelei and her new friend Andrew begin to suspect that their teacher, the hypnotic Ms. Morrigan, is not who she seems. The mountains of syrupy pancakes and heaps of marzipan leave a sickening taste in their mouths as they uncover a sinister mystery at the heart of their classroom. What Lorelei and Andrew soon discover chills theirs bones, and might even pick them clean!
Sinister Sweetness had some charm to it; I liked the overall concept and I enjoyed the fairytale references. I liked Andrew and I wished he had a bigger role to play, especially as the book went on and Lorelei began to be more annoying. Boy, was she annoying. She kept flipflopping between angst and arrogance (which I suppose is pretty accurate for that age group) and I stopped cheering for her as the protagonist and wished the book would end so that I could stop being in her head.
Also, Lorelei had a few moments where I couldn’t believe what she had just said. There’s a comment about breast cancer in this book that is incredibly callous and my mouth fell open when I read it. Not only did it come across as if she was mocking Andrew or playing some sort of “my mother had worse cancer than your mother” card, but also acted as an immediate disconnection from the book. I don’t think anyone who has suffered from and/or knows someone who has suffered from breast cancer would appreciate Lorelei’s comment. And yeah, okay, she’s twelve or whatever, but Loftin was definitely not thinking that comment all the way through when she wrote it.
I also didn’t like the way the ending line was basically Lorelei joking about how she would kill her stepmother if she didn’t behave. Yeah, that’s real funny.
So, yes, the book had some charm, but it was mostly spoiled by Lorelei and her comments, as well as the melodramatic, over-the-top portrayal of the stepmother. I don’t like the “shallow, flighty, beauty-obsessed stepmother who doesn’t care about her stepchildren” and I get that Loftin was probably aiming for some fairytale-like bad stepmother persona, but I thought it was just over-the-top and tedious.
Also, the part of me that worked in a chemistry lab for four years in college wanted to point out while reading that lots of things make flame turn blue, not just bone, and that it was quite the logical leap for Andrew to figure that out.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Some scary imagery, some insensitive comments.
Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade
“Pay attention, Lorelei. What do you notice?”
I twisted around in my chair. The classroom was quiet. Everyone was busy.
Then I noticed the sound. Chewing. A dozen mouths chewing, cracking the outsides off handful after handful of M&M’s. Some students were reading or writing. Some were texting or playing games on their phones. But every one of them was eating as fast as they could.
“So?” I said, not wanting to admit I found the sight of them all shoveling candy in as fast as they could kind of disturbing. “What’s your deal?”
He breathed the words; I had to strain to hear.
“They can’t stop eating.”