Thursday, July 18, 2013
The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil #1) by Soman Chainani
But... wait! I want to raise my hand and ask, "Tell me why they are friends!"
This is a problem considering the story hinges on this main point. While Sophie and Agatha are supposedly the best of friends, the character development doesn't show how this happens. When Agatha and Sophie first meet, Sophie isn't Agatha's friend and she says so; she realizes Sophie's just using her. Sophie is beautiful, shallow, and narcissistic. Sophie wants to go the School of Good and Evil where two children are kidnapped every year from her village later to be found in a fairy tale storybook. She believes she will find her prince at the School of Good and live "happily ever after." Agatha is the perfect villain for the School of Evil, Sophie thinks, because she is ugly, lonely, and isolated, and Sophie thinks if she's with Agatha her chance of being chosen will be more likely. When Sophie is kidnapped (just as she wants) Agatha tries to rescue her and in the process the two end up at the school except Sophie doesn't go to the School of Good, she ends up in the School of Evil, while Agatha is dumped in the School of Good.
The two misfits continue to be friends but mainly because Agatha pursues it the most. She goes to extremes to rescue Sophie and it never made sense to me given Sophie's quickness to betray Agatha at every turn and Agatha's dislike for her at the beginning. Sophie and Agatha are superficial and flit between wanting beauty on the outside to beauty on the inside. Agatha says in the beginning that beauty is temporary but later confesses she thinks it brings happiness. Sophie believes only in beauty with no understanding of ugliness that comes from hate. Her personality struck me as psychopathic, probably because she resembled the murders I just read about in a nonfiction book called, "Greed, Rage, and Love Gone Wrong: Murder in Minnesota," by Bruce Rubenstein. She cheats, murders, and lies with no remorse and Agatha goes along with her because she is her only friend. Sophie's dumber than a doorknob most of the time before transforming into a mastermind villain at the end. An explanation for her surge of brainpower is given, but it felt contrived. The characters are stereotypical and wishy-washy for a good portion of the novel. They start to come together at the end but I wasn't vested in their development because it took too long.
The bag of mixed messages continues with the prince, Tedros, who loves one and then the other meanwhile badmouthing each when dating the other girl. He seemed pretty hypocritical to me when he says to Sophie she's a terrible friend because she uses her friends, betrays them, calls them fat, and liars. He too, is prejudiced toward others, lies, and betrays people who are different. The seesaw continues as Agatha hounds Sophie to impulsively kiss Tedros immediately and then lectures her later for not making a plan of attack to kiss him. Teachers are like caricatures that don't offer words of advice. For instance, when Agatha and Sophie are punished by the teachers in burning shoes until the girls want to die, I thought it focused on the cruelty of the teachers versus the girls argument. The teachers are mostly idiots throughout the story with no control of students. When some teachers impart a few words of wisdom at the end, it seemed out of character and too late. I also didn't like the message that failure is unacceptable and students who failed were dealt an awful fate. Failure is difficult to deal with and those who failed were the kids the author kills off the most.
The ending and what it suggests might offend some. I won't give it away but I didn't see that coming. It is one of many reasons it is better for older students. Some of the plot is predictable such as the love triangle, but there were also some interesting twists such as when Sophie has to deal with a duplicate of herself in class creating an introspective moment. Unfortunately there were too few of these occurrences which makes the book fall short of its potential. Transitions were confusing at times such as when Sophie and Agatha would talk to each other in mirrors. I seemed to always be rereading those parts because I didn't' realize they were looking at their reflection to see the other. The action scenes and magic is very creative and I enjoyed these parts.
There is a reader prophecy and riddle. The prophecy didn't seem necessary to the plot because it wasn't told until the end. The overarching theme of good and evil in human nature fell flat because the characters weren't complex enough. The stereotypes enforced in this book are my biggest complaint. That ugly people aren't happy unless they are beautiful, that a girl isn't happy unless she has her prince, that girls only think of boys, that a fat person has no friends, that a married person isn't happy. Some of these are refuted at the end but it comes too late. Or perhaps the author is trying to do too much. At one point Sophie tries to rally the villains into having hope and feeling good about themselves. At first her advice surrounds just superficial beauty before turning toward what it means to accept oneself, but the message never gets delved into because the plot suddenly shifts into a Dark Lord hullabaloo; thus, losing the opportunity to dig deeper into this theme. This book's potential isn't reached and it is a shame because it is an interesting premise and creative fantasy. Maybe the sequel will pull it all together.