Saturday, October 25, 2014

The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani



(In which fairy tale princesses are introduced to an extreme feminism awakening.)

***

I'll try my best not to include spoilers but I might fail. If you haven't read the first book yet, remember you've been warned.


When Sophie and Agatha escaped their fairy tale and returned to Gavaldon, they became instant celebrities. Autographs here, photo shoots there, seemingly endless interviews and book signings. Sophie just loves it and is convinced she could live a peaceful life in that unbearably boring town as long as she has Agatha. She was even willing to accept that her father is going to remarry a woman that is a total opposite of her goddess-like mother. As long as Agatha's there. 

But on the day of the wedding, Agatha wished for something that Sophie couldn't provide. And then the ghost of their fairy tale life came haunting them, along with knives and arrows and invisible assassins that are after Sophie for a huge bounty for her head. The two girls are left with no choice but to return to the dreaded school and try to set things right again.

Only the school isn't how they left it before.

Princes were banished. Fairy tales no longer end with a happily-ever-after-inspired themes and worse, female protagonists got rid of their princes and kings in most horrible ways possible, reign on their own and became celebrated heroes of women empowerment.

The schools were no longer divided into good and evil but into genders. Lessons were no longer taught on how to be better and worse versions of their characters but how to live without the other gender and, how to dispose them.

Sophie and Agatha saw their old schoolmates in one school and was flabbergasted to see a utmost lack of fashion and grooming sense practiced. No one is required to wear makeup, dresses, long hair and be uptight.

Agatha  couldn't imagine a functional world where the genders are at war with each other, especially when the other school is led by Tedros, who is after Sophie for ruining his fairytale ending with Agatha. Oh, the ego. 

But Sophie loved the lack of moral distinction. She wanted to stay. But Agatha, as always, wanted to do what's right for everyone. 

When they realized that they were brought back to school because of Agatha's wish, they discovered that in order to bring peace to the fairytale world, they need to find the Storian and end their story either with the "proper" one or with the two of them peacefully back in Gavaldon.

But things are more complicated than that, of course. Especially with the presence of new Dean.

In the second book of The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani again uses his interesting characters (although they are eyeroll-inducing at most times) as well as his simple narration embellished with twists that you'll find hard to guess until the last moment. This book was a quick read, making one wish that the last installment was already available. 

Waiting is such a bitter pill to swallow.

I wonder, though,  if the gender-bending act found in book one and two (which, I just have to say, was leveled up in book two) will still be found in book three. 

Well, since it was a staple in fairy tales and in this book, I wouldn't be surprised if it was.

Also, may I share with you it's very cinematic book trailer? You're welcome!


Currently reading:
Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton





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Sunday, October 5, 2014

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani



(In which bedtime stories are to blame.)


***

They say that parents reading to their children before bed positively reinforces children's interests in books. Well, I have never been read to by my parents (and I love books all the same). At one point I envied children who listen to their parents' narration of fairy tales with wide and excited eyes. And then they go to sleep either dreaming of a prince or a witch. 

And some even spend their lives either finding Prince Charming or being one.

Alright. I may have been overreacting. But surely this is not the first time anyone thinks fairy tales are stupid at best and sexist at worst. But unsurprisingly, everyone wants to live a fairy tale and live happily ever after. Besides, who doesn't?

Now that begs the question, what if there was a school to prepare one to live their fairy tale?

These are the secondary thoughts that ran in my head when I read the synopsis of Soman Chainani's YA novel.

Because really, the first thing I had in mind was how gorgeous the cover was! I thought it was a manga!

The cover features Sophie and Agatha (I don't know why but I sincerely believe Chainani should have thought of better names). Sophie, the beautiful, blonde-haired, emerald-eyed lass who tries to do good deeds just so she could get to study in the School for Good befriends the dark-haired and dark-clad cemetery-dwelling Agatha. They are obviously  the epitome of character foils, who end up being best friends against all odds and common sense.

They live in Gavaldon, a village taken straight out of a story book, with cottages, a town square, people living simply but happily and an endless forest surrounding them.

But Gavaldon is haunted by a mysterious phenomenon. Every year, two children vanish and are believed to have been sent to the School for Good and Evil. Over the years, the adults have unraveled some aspects of it. First, that the 'kidnapped' children were at least twelve years old. And second, one of them has to be Good and the other Evil.

This year, the pair is Sophie and Agatha. But just when it seemed to be very obvious who goes to which school, Agatha was dropped to the School for Good with princes and princesses and Sophie to the School for Evil with the witches.

Extremely convinced that there has to be a massive mistake, the girls tried switching schools so that Agatha could bring her Gothic fashion sense to the right place and Sophie could wear pink again. When they found out it was impossible, try their best to go back home.    But then they realized they couldn't go home without reaching the end of their fairy tale. So they decided that Sophie (the supposedly real princess) should just kiss her prince Tedros of Camelot (with whom she felt intensely infatuated at first sight) to get the stupidly cliche story over and done with. But their fairy tale seemed to have a mind of its own.

Totally gripping and unputdownable, The School for Good and Evil makes us even more grateful for fairy tale adaptations like Maleficent and Frozen. To begin with, these films teach us that happily ever after doesn't really have to depend on a man. Feminist, I know. But makes perfect sense. This is, I believe, an opinion shared by the novel.

It is a novel full of "illusion versus reality" and an overwhelming echo of Madam Lantin from Guy de Maupassant's "The False Gems" ("We cannot hide our true nature"). Hmmmm. So literary criticism.

But at some point, reading it feels like eating junk food - it's delicious and somehow liberating, but still empty calorie-laden and not guilt-free. There were many parts where I just roll my eyes and think "Oh, what a kid!" I just can't believe how Sophie could be so selfish and Agatha so selfless (well, they wouldn't be foils for nothing) and Tedros so weak. 

Oh, and the ending just simply took my breath away, not for the good reasons. It was so unprecedented and downright weird it would surely make Maleficent blush. I just can't get over it!

If you need more convincing, check this book trailer out!


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Friday, October 3, 2014

Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger



(In which The Devil is not done yet.)

***

When we say "F*#$ you" to anything and mean it, we'd seriously never want that person in our lives and us in theirs. Which I'm sure is what Andrea Sachs definitely wanted when she spat the deliciously vengeful words to Miranda Priestly, then walked out of Runway magazine like a true badass heroine. Unfortunately, life seemed to have said the same F word to her when digital karma strikes back. Alex, her boyfriend of six years broke up with her, her only friend Lily moved to another state and her parents got divorced. 

Fast forward to ten years and Andy, now a successful co-owner (alongside Emily, her previous arch-nemesis from Runway) of The Plunge, an elite wedding magazine. Much more, she's getting married to the handsome and almost impossibly gentleman Max Harrison of the Harrison Media Holdings, one of the leading companies in the US. And the best bit? They are madly in love with each other. She is practically living the life every girl would kill for. (It sounds familiar because it should be!)

Things are going on perfectly - the wedding preparations and The Plunge covering it, advertisers piling up for ads in the mag and a growing reputation of their business in the publiahing industry. Until she read the note written by her future mother-in-law hours before the wedding.

The note wasn't for her, of course. It was for Max. And his mother was begging him not to marry Andrea and marry Katherine instead (the ex he was pleased to see in his bachelor party). Suddenly, Andrea's fairy tale started to crumble. 

And then the Prada-and-Hermes clad Devil enters her life, ready to ruin it once again. Armed with a seemingly unforgotten grudge from ten years past, Miranda Priestly offers to buy Andrea's hard-earned life and career to the tune of millions of dollars. Slowly and excruciatingly, Andrea realizes she has to fight to maintain the sanity she thought she lost by working for Miranda as well as to protect the future she envisions for her family with Max. But such decisions don't come without price. 

In a sequel that is as gripping and downright hilarious as its prequel (The Devil Wears Prada), Lauren Weisberger once again shows off her fashion knowledge that I will never learn in a million years. Anyway, I still hate Emily and wonder how Andrea could withstand her condescending manners and evilness shrouded by a perfect figure and flawless fashion sense. I hope it's not because of her perfect figure and flawless fashion sense. 

With intelligent characters and crisp narration, Revenge Wears Prada proves to be a sequel worth the long wait (TEN years!!). Not only does it teach the value and nature of true love and friendship, as well as the ability of the past's ghost to haunt and torment, but it also insists on the unwavering persistence of destiny and the relief brought by correct (albeit painful) decisions. In other words, we could all learn a lot from this!



Currently reading:

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani






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