Once Upon a Time at “The School for Good and Evil” by Soman Chainani

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Published: May 14, 2013; HarperCollins | Amazon | Goodreads

I went through an emotional roller coaster ride because of this book and words cannot express the praise Soman Chainani deserves for such an amazing story.

Why am I raving about it? In a small town of Gavaldon, two children go missing every year. Legend has it that an evil School Master abducts them to take to his school, The School for Good and Evil, where these two missing children will graduate and become their fairy tales as the villain and the hero.

Jack, Rapunzel, and Cinderella? They were some of the kidnapped children who were Good and they become heroes of their stories. The giant, the witch, and the stepmother? All graduated Evil.

Sophie knows she’s Good and she can’t wait to leave Gavaldon, where nothing exciting happens. On the day that the School Master is said to arrive, Sophie makes sure her hair is glossy blonde, her skin creamy and white, and her dress impeccable. What doesn’t expect, though, is her only friend, Agatha, who thinks she’s stupid for believing in fairy tales.

Agatha doesn’t like people, although she loves her cat Reaper. Her mother, the town doctor, is called a witch and constantly expresses her disappointment in Agatha who would rather shut herself up in the house than go and curse people. But Agatha thinks they’re all stupid, even the blonde girl who brings her bitter, sandy biscuits. So why is it that she went to Sophie to make sure that the girl isn’t whisked away to The School of Good and Evil? Maybe because Sophie’s her only friend.

But things don’t happen the way Sophie plans it when she and Agatha are both taken to the School – where she is dropped at the gates of Evil and Agatha in Good!

Its Strength

The Characters are awesome. I love and hate them. I pity them, get inspired by them, wish them to be heroes, want to throttle them, and cheer for them. Chainani’s characters are both good and evil and the relentless battle and division will make you question what is truly good and truly evil.

What I love about this story is that even though it’s a “retelling” of fairy tales, it feels more like a re-invention or a deeper look or interpretation into this whole hero-villain business. Sure, there are princes, princesses, and witches, but can’t one be the other as well?

Sophie and Agatha are amazing characters and Sophie can seem like a shallow and weak character at times, but she is strong, one of the strongest female protagonists in literature. Agatha is smart, witty, and loyal, yet cunning and determined. It’s like, if the four houses in Hogwarts were suddenly forced into just two!

And then there are the lessons: Beautification and Uglification? The History of Heroism? Of Villainy? Animal Communication? Now you know where Snow White and Cinderella has a lot of animal friends!

The school isn’t boring, with a host of interesting teachers, like Castor and Pollux, both kind and mean, or Sader, mysterious and handsome. The Trial by Tale and the Snow Ball will draw you in and make you wonder, in Chainani’s world, where would you be if you could only be one or the other – Good or Evil?

I don’t know about you, but I cried and laughed. This isn’t a story of true love’s kiss, but that is mentioned, mind you. This is a story of good and evil, of friendship and love, of roles and social expectations, and of right and wrong.

Its Weakness

Well, there is a certain prince I wanted to throttle at times, and the battle can be confusing, but the story won’t be the heart-wrenching and touching one that it is without them, so I’m not complaining.

Should You Read It?

That question shouldn’t even be asked (oh, and the illustrations by Iacopo Bruno are awesome)!

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