The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When best friends Sophie and Agatha are kidnapped and forced onto opposite sides of a School dedicated to churning out fairy tale villains and heroes, they must stick together to find a way out - or face their true destinies alone.
Beautiful Sophie hates the thought of being ordinary, and is determined to find her way into the fairy tales so she can marry her own handsome prince. In spite of her ceaseless vanity and self-absorption, she manages to befriend the ugly and lonely Agatha.
Soon the unlikely best friends are kidnapped and forced to participate in the bizarre world of the School for Good and Evil, where the mission is to create pure paragons of Good and Evil who will then be remembered in fairy tales.
Except someone makes a mistake: beautiful Sophie is dropped into the Evil side and misfit Agatha placed in the candy-pink side of Good.
While Sophie is forced to study Uglification and Henchmen Training with the Evil, Agatha learns that Good princesses whistle up forest animals, do their hair, and wait for princes to come to the rescue. Impatient with frippery, Agatha only wants to return home with her friend. Pink-loving Sophie, however, longs to switch sides so she can rule the Good - in spite of occasionally showing an unprincesslike aptitude for her Evil lessons.
It's a complex and unexpected book (sometimes overly action-packed) where the line between Good and Evil remains in sight but grows increasingly blurred. The friendship between the two girls is compelling as each struggles with her own goals; sometimes in concert with her counterpart, mostly in opposition.
Sophie's lack of introspection sometimes makes her frustratingly dense, but she is entertaining as an unwitting villainess-in-training. (She's cut along the lines of Galinda the Good in the musical Wicked, and there are other interesting parallels to that story.) Agatha, on the other hand, sees her situation more clearly and is a sympathetic heroine struggling to do Good in spite of loneliness and an inclination to Evil.
Soman Chainani knows his fairy tales, and he gets at the complications of human nature that go beyond simple Good and Evil. It's an entertaining story, as smart as fractured fairy tales books should be. Fans of Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making will find much to enjoy here. There are flashes of humor, too, that recall The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy. Fans of traditional fairy tales who are interested in the deeper morality should also read George MacDonald's classic The Lost Princess. And don't forget Chainani's upcoming sequel: A World Without Princes!
"Evil thought it had corrupted Good, and Good thought it had enlightened Evil, but it didn't matter." - 270
" 'I was angry!' Sophie cried. 'I didn't mean any - I didn't want to hurt him! I don't want to hurt anyone! I'm not a villain!'
'You see, it doesn't matter what we are, Sophie.'
Lady Lesso leaned so close she just had to whisper.
'It's what we do.' " - 286