Great Middle Grade Reads discussion

The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)
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message 1: by Jemima (new)

Jemima Pett | 1492 comments Mod
Hope you've all managed to track down a copy of the School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, which is our group read for September.

It's in my library (UK) as both paperback and ebook, so I have not much excuse not to read it, except pressure of work :)

In this thread please put your comments after you've read it. One thing I wondered after reading the blurb, is the setting or plot rather close to one of our other group reads: The Girl who Drank the Moon? Does that in fact help MG books/readers? Your thoughts, please.

message 2: by Justine (last edited Sep 02, 2018 12:00PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Justine Laismith (justinelaismith) | 320 comments I read these two books within a month of each other, and I don't think it's anyway like The Girl Who Drank the Moon. It's one of those derivatisation/extension of fairy tale books like The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer or Descendants Series by Melissa de la Cruz. Because I have read the other two, this concept is not novel to me. I would be more wowed if it were the first time I'd read a story along this idea. Add to this, the foreshadowing was too much. You know how it's going to pan out almost right from the start. It was a slow start, but got better after about a quarter way in. I am almost tempted to read the rest of the series. This will be perfect for MG readers who want the familiarity of traditional fairy tales, but with a twist.

Louie | 73 comments I just finished reading The School For Good And Evil and I loved it ! It was so good with very fleshed out, relatable characters and a plot that broke stereotypes. I can't wait to read the sequel ! Also, I didn't find any similarities between The School For Good And Evil and The Girl Who Drank The Moon.

I give it Five Stars!

J.L. | 48 comments I actually loved this book too. I had to stop in and say something about it. The only thing I didn't like was how Sophie ended up. I wanted her story to follow a different path, but besides that, I loved everything about it. I never read the Girl Who Drank the Moon. From the blurb for TGWDTM it seems as though it's more relationship oriented instead of plot focused. I do prefer a stronger good vs evil plot.

SaraKat | 167 comments Mod
I finished it today. I love alternate fairy tale stories and this one was a great example. The children of fairy tale characters learning to be princesses, heroes, villains, henchmen,... I thought Agatha and Sophie were great characters. The book really took stereotypes and turned them on their heads.

The only irritant was that beauty still equated to goodness. Agatha is turned beautiful in the end rather than the 'good' people learning to love her as she is. Other than that, I loved seeing the new types of magic and reading about the school's great history and set up. It reminded me a bit of Harry Potter's house system. I thought the story very dark even though it was presented in a lighthearted way. Sometimes a chuckle would abruptly end as I realized that a death or slavery would be the result of the funny thing I was seeing. Death and violence were handed out liberally to characters, so I wouldn't recommend this book for sensitive readers.

message 6: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 1673 comments Mod
I simply haven't had the time to even think about reading this. From the reactions, I can't decide if I'm sorry or glad!

message 7: by Paula (new) - added it

Paula S (paula_s) I listened to and enjoyed The School for Good and Evil. The setting starts of as quite similar to The girl who drank the moon, with an isolated village and disappearing children, but then this story went a different way. These disappearing children are teens and while most normal children fear being abducted Sophie sees it as her big chance to get out of the village and go in search of her happy ending. It's never that easy, though.
The story has lots of twists and turns while to girls try to find their places at the schools and it got quite dark at times. A bit too much focus on beauty as a sign of good, even though the author tries to turn that around, and make it a little more gray scale, with "good" characters doing bad things and vice versa.

Tonja Drecker (tonjadrecker) | 14 comments I enjoyed The School for Good and Evil. The world building completely drew in, and it was so easy to let the emotions flow from the beginning. A bit dark in the first chapters...okay, more than just there. The prejudices were so extreme on the bueaty end, but yet, everything was flipped upside down. I agree with SaraKat about Agatha becoming beautiful as not being completely necessary. A little acceptance would have gone a long way. Still, I loved the imagination and story telling in this one.

message 9: by Maria (new) - added it

Maria Dateno | 42 comments The School for Good and Evil had a really original way of using the traditional fairy tale characters and tropes, with a lot of creative, unexpected twists. It was well-written, and I did want to finish the book to find out what happened. However, I can't say I liked it.

I wouldn't recommend this book for middle grade readers because of its warped depiction of friendship and forgiveness. More than once the story points out that "the good forgives," which I would agree with, but not the kind of forgiveness depicted. Forgiveness does not mean letting a person use and abuse you over and over. To forgive those who hurt us does not mean putting ourselves in the position to be hurt again. So, I would agree that Agatha shows goodness when she forgives and declines to seek revenge, but this should include protecting herself from Sophie, who has proven herself untrustworthy in the extreme. For her own good (as well as Sophie's, actually), Agatha seriously should make new friends and not put herself repeatedly into Sophie's power.

Which brings me to the depiction of friendship. The relationship that Sophie and Agatha have is not friendship. Sophie uses Agatha over and over again, lying to her to get what she wants, stealing from her, using Agatha's intelligence to get ahead, taking advantage of her in every way possible, (view spoiler) It annoyed me that the book seemed serious in affirming that these two girls were friends. I really couldn’t see it. From the first mention of Sophie's "best friend" on page 4, I found it completely unconvincing, and it became more so as the book progressed. Agatha acts as a friend to Sophie many times, but one begins to suspect that it is neediness that attracts her to Sophie, and her desperate desire for friendship. It is not a healthy, balanced, mutual friendship. (It occurred to me that the author, being male, possibly has a misunderstanding of what true friendship between women is like, absorbing the depictions of popular culture and not observing any real-life female friendships, but perhaps that is not fair. )

One other basic underlying problem in the book is the dualistic portrayal of good and evil as two equal powers that need to remain in balance, which does not fit with a judeo/christian/islamic concept of good and evil, in which evil is the absence of good, not a separate and equal power. Also, the related idea that children are destined to be one or the other was implied throughout the story. The ending of the book seemed to cancel that out, but the teasers for the next book seemed to bring it back, so I’m not sure where the series will go with that. However, I don't plan to read the rest of the books to find out.

message 10: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 1673 comments Mod
Fascinating insights, Maria! Thank you for sharing all that. It seems to me you have brought up some valuable points—any responses from those who liked it?

message 11: by Paula (new) - added it

Paula S (paula_s) I never saw the friendship between Sophie and Agatha as anything other than a toxic, and I didn't get the impression that the author did either.

Sophie was using Agatha from the start. Sophie pretended to be friends with Agatha to show that she was a good person, instead of because she liked her, and in my opinion this was the first sign that Sophie wasn't as good as she thought herself. Agatha seemed to be aware of that, but went along because she was a genuinely good person and didn't want to hurt Sophie by refusing to be her friend (so basically Agatha did what Sophie thought she was doing by becoming her only friend).

I felt like they behaved a bit like sisters after they arrived at the school - forced to help and protect, without being real friends or even really liking each other. I can relate to that; I'm an older sibling and I'm used to feeling responsible for the well-being of people around me, even if I don't really know them. Agatha as the older,responsible sibling and Sophie and the younger,bratty sister used to having things her own way. Lots of character development for both (and Agatha becomes beautiful when she starts smiling from happiness, not because she gets a magical makeover).

"Also, the related idea that children are destined to be one or the other was implied throughout the story. "
This wasn't just implied - it was what the school taught the children, and what Agatha fought against. I felt the story showed pretty clearly both 'good' and the 'evil' children doing good and evil things, and blurring the lines.

message 12: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Douglass (rdouglass) | 1673 comments Mod
Paula wrote: "I never saw the friendship between Sophie and Agatha as anything other than a toxic, and I didn't get the impression that the author did either.

Sophie was using Agatha from the start. Sophie pre..."

Golly, Paula! Now I'm thinking I'll have to read it for myself to decide which way I see it! :D

message 13: by Maria (new) - added it

Maria Dateno | 42 comments Thanks for your comments, Paula.
Maybe the author does intend to portray a toxic friendship. (I agree that he obviously intends it at the beginning.) No wonder I didn't like it! That still seems to make the book not really for middle grade readers.

message 14: by J.S. (new) - added it

J.S. Jaeger (jsjaeger) | 170 comments I loved this book from the first sentence. I couldn't wait to see what happened and how things progressed. I loved the idea of the two different schools and the twist of which girl went to which school (I took a moment of thought there to make sure I used the correct which/witch). I was enthralled and telling my kids about it the whole time I was reading it. And then the last couple of chapters happened.

I appreciated them arming the princesses but had hoped to see them in action and see them realize they didn't need the princes to protect them as they cowered. I meant to go back and relisten to this part, but if I heard/read correctly, it bothered me that Sophie didn't have a change of heart until she realized her prince was ugly and old. Then I felt like her complete turn around was unrealistic and unbelievable. I kept waiting for her to embrace her evilness and use it to help defeat the schoolmaster because she wanted to help everyone at the school. There were so many times the author had characters break the good/evil rules and I wanted this to be one.

I'd still recommend this to middle-grade readers but not as highly as I thought I would from the first 3/4 of the book.

message 15: by J.S. (new) - added it

J.S. Jaeger (jsjaeger) | 170 comments SaraKat wrote: "The only irritant was that beauty still equated to goodness. Agatha is turned beautiful in the end rather than the 'good' people learning to love her as she is."

I noticed this also. When she is first "transformed" by the fairy godmother I was thrilled. I loved that she looked in the mirror only to see that she was still her but more confident. Then she became stunning, breathtaking, etc. etc.

message 16: by J.S. (new) - added it

J.S. Jaeger (jsjaeger) | 170 comments Regarding the comments on the friendship between Agatha and Sophie, I agree it was a very toxic relationship. Although it was an interesting twist, I was disappointed about the way they returned to the village (left the spoiler out) because it means that the relationship will continue and I presume it will continue with the same behaviors.

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