Covered in dog hair, Obsessed with books, Wondering what it's all about. I suspect the answer is ice cream and the ocean.
“In the forest of primeval
A school for Good and Evil
Twin towers like two heads
One for the pure
And one for the wicked
Try to escape you'll always fail,
The only way out is
Through a fairytale.”
The poem is a nice little summation of what the school in The School for Good and Evil is all about. The school trains the Villains, Princes and Princesses that play out their lives in fairy tales. Our two heroines, Sophie and Agatha are a bit different from all their classmates as they aren't the children of fairytale characters but were plucked from a regular “mundane” village. They were raised reading fairy tales not being part of them.
Sophie and Agatha are different in another way as well. Sophie is blonde and perfectly groomed – the perfect princess – while Agatha is dark and morbid and always dressed in black – the perfect villain. However, when the two unlikely friends are dropped at the School for Good and Evil by monstrous birds, it is Agatha who is enrolled in the School for Good and Sophie who is placed in the School for Evil.
So surely you can guess where it goes from there? Of course Agatha, while grumpy and anti-social, is at heart caring, loving and brave. Sophie, while beautiful, is shallow, lazy and selfish. The “sorting hat” put them where they belonged despite their outward appearances. Both girls must then deal with being the outsider as they don't fit the mold of their respective schools and their friendship also faces many challenges, namely a boy. King Arthur’s son to be exact. In many ways, it is a strange little book that aims to thwart the usual clichés while also affectionately embracing them.
So at this point you are probably thinking ho hum, a silly little book about how appearances can be deceiving. But hold up. I myself felt that way early in the book though I nevertheless devoured it greedily. It is a fun and snappy little story with engaging characters and a lot of humor and somewhere along the line this book surprised me. It took me somewhere a bit deeper than I was expecting to go. There was no profound life changing but it did become quite a bit more interesting than at first appearance.
The book is not just about not judging people on their appearances but also about not making the mistake of thinking of anyone as pure good or pure evil. Humans are more complex than that and any institution that supports the idea of a strict dichotomy is corrupt and wrong. It isn’t Sophie that is the Villain, though she does some truly horrible things, but the School for Good and Evil itself and even the society that insists on it existing that is the true menace. All of these ideas are presented in a fast paced, funny, harrowing adventure story. This was a very light and addictive read but it was also one that left me feeling surprisingly thoughtful at the end.
“You’re not evil Sophie," Agatha whispered, touching her decayed cheek. "You’re human."
FINAL VERDICT: A fun adventurous fairy tale parody aimed at middle grade readers which may surprise you (in a good way).