Cbr14bingo Question (Bingo)— How did I not know I had this book? Why did it take me so long to finally read it? What do “good” and “evil” even mean? Looking over my bookshelves as I often do figuring out what to read next, this book, which I think has been there for years, recently stood out because I recognized it as the title of a movie coming out on Netflix in October. I have no idea how I came to be in possession of this book (impulse buy? Gift? Comicon swag?) but it was a lot of fun to read and has made me very interested in watching the movie and maybe even reading the other books in the series.
Sophie and Agatha are an odd couple who live in a quaint little village called Gavaldon. Sophie is the daughter of the baker and is obsessed with becoming a fairy tale princess. She is focused on her looks (long golden hair, beautiful dresses, a strict diet) and tries to follow the code of the princess (doing good deeds) so that when the mysterious School Master kidnaps two children on November 11, as he does every four years, she will be taken to the School for Good, and all of her dreams will come true. Agatha is pretty much the opposite. She lives with her healer mother near the graveyard with her cat; she is dark and pale, and she dresses in dull, shabby clothing. Most villagers, including Sophie, think that Agatha would be the perfect candidate for the School for Evil, where villains are made. It’s clear that when Sophie visits Agatha that Agatha is her project, her good deed. Agatha rolls her eyes at Sophie’s princess dreams and thinks that the whole “School Master kidnapping kids” thing is a joke; really, kids just get lost in the forests around the village and there is no “School for Good and Evil.” But on the eve of November 11, as villagers try to hide their children and fortify their homes, Agatha sees a dark shadow pass through the village toward Sophie’s house. Desperate to keep her friend safe in Gavaldon, Agatha follows and both girls get swept up by a flying beast that delivers them to the School for Good and Evil. The only problem is that there has been a mix up: Sophie has been dropped in the School for Evil and Agatha in the School for Good. Based on the girls’ looks, everyone at the school seems to think that there has indeed been a mistake because Sophie, in her glass slippers and pink dresses sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the Evil “Nevers”, as does Agatha with her frumpy clothes and odd manners in the School for Good and its “Evers”. Sophie is desperate to get this mistake rectified so that she can go to the School for Good and win over Prince Tedros, while Agatha wants to clear it up so that they can just go home.
This story was so much fun to read! Soman Chainani injects a lot of humor into the writing and provides some delightful side characters into the story. As far as I’m concerned the best characters are Sophie’s fellow “Nevers” in the School for Evil. Her roommates, Anadil and Hester, absolutely loathe Sophie, especially when she starts outranking them in school, and as a result they become Sophie’s allies in trying to get her out of the School for Evil. Roommate Dot, who provides a lot of comic relief, is the only one who seems to see how truly evil Sophie can be, because as we the reader figured out very early on, there was no mistake in Sophie or Agatha’s placement. Meanwhile Agatha is a pariah over in the School for Good. She hates wearing pink and insists on wearing her “clumps” (clogs?) instead of glass slippers. Her roommates all leave rather than room with her. When the handsomest prince, Tedros, keeps finding himself drawn to her, he is convinced Agatha must be a witch — there is no other logical explanation and all the Evers agree! Both Sophie and Agatha hold utterly wrong beliefs about themselves, and their gradual realization of their true characters is a delight to read, as is the impact this revelation has on Sophie and Agatha’s relationship.
What does it mean to be “good” or “evil”? I love the way Chainani turns all of the fairy tale notions on their head, skewering the way society judges people based on looks rather than actions, and demonstrating the ability of people to show both good and evil in the way they behave, even toward friends. Sophie and Agatha, after getting an audience with the elusive School Master, learn that their “story” is already being written, that they can’t just leave school or switch places. They must live through their fairy tale and figure out the truth in order to reach their goals. The end of this story is superb! I loved it so much!! These are some great characters and I look forward to reading more of their story. I’m also looking forward to seeing how Netflix shows us The School for Good and Evil.