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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