Two allegedly middle grade fairytale-based fantasy novels. TWO VERY DIFFERENT REACTIONS FROM MOI.
So. Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Is it supposed to be bad news first? “Bad news” is kind of a misnomer, in this case. “Bad news” on the blog of the famed 2.7-average-rating-for-2017 hater of books everywhere, ruiner of dreams, crusher of souls can only qualify as, like, one of my all time favorite books garnering a one star rating upon reread?
Not that out of the question, though, really.
This is not bad news because it is one 4.5 star rating and one three star rating.
Again, compare that to the 2.7 average rating and it’s fantastic news all around, really.
Let’s talk about ELLA ENCHANTED and THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL.
Synopsis: At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: “Instead of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.” When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella’s life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.
Gail Carson Levine’s examination of traditional female roles in fairy tales takes some satisfying twists and deviations from the original. Ella is bound by obedience against her will, and takes matters in her own hands with ambition and verve. Her relationship with the prince is balanced and based on humor and mutual respect; in fact, it is she who ultimately rescues him. Ella Enchanted has won many well-deserved awards, including a Newbery Honor.
If you thought that was a long-ass synopsis, one, you are correct, and two, YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET.
Have I mentioned I love middle grade? Because hey, guess what, I absolutely goddamn love middle grade. (I feel like I shouldn’t say “goddamn” in a review of a children’s book, but also I am still me. I still have my brand to look out for, regardless of target audiences.)
A n y w a y. This book rules.
I have a kind of complicated relationship with the movie. It has a reputation for being among the worst book-to-film adaptations, and that is, guess what, totally warranted. They’re two totally different stories, essentially. But uh…(whispers) I guess that’s kind of why/how I like them both?
I GREW UP ON BOTH OF THEM OKAY. THEY’RE BOTH GOOD IF YOU LOOK AT THEM SEPARATELY.
Anyway. I say for the second time.
This book, in case you live under a rock that prevents you from hearing about great middle-grade adventure retellings of fairytales with feisty female protagonists, is a Cinderella retelling wherein Cinderella (just Ella tho) has been cursed with obedience. She has to obey every command given to her.
But it double-sucks because Ella is a lil badass and totally feisty and stubborn and would neverrrrr listen to anyone if she could help it. Unfortunately she cannot. But she gets into some fun hijinks and verbal battles and whatnot because of it.
There is also Prince Char, who is an absolute BAAAAABE. One thing that no one can argue with in the movie is that the movie-Char is fine as hell. Pro tip: google that sh*t and picture it for the rest of the review. Seriously. The HAIIIIIIIR. Oh my god.
Anyway. (Three times now. Stop counting.)
Char’s full name is Charmont, which is just one letter off from Charmant, which is the French word for charming. And he is EXTREMELY SO. A book boyfriend for the ages and the only man who could ever deserve Queen of Feist Ella.
This should be enough to convince you that this book rocks and it is ten years past time for you to read it. Amazing badass female protagonist + dreamy love interest + great well-developed romance that starts as a friendship (which I didn’t mention until this point but now you know) + adventurey exciting plot + curse + fairies + ogres + giants + fairytale lands + mythical creatures + elvin artists + Cinderella retelling = perfection.
Okay, to be fair, I didn’t include a lot of that information before now. But again: now you know.
Bottom line: This book is like throwing a bunch of ingredients for perfection in a pot and hoping they stick. And guess what? THEY DO.
THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL
Synopsis: The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.
This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.
But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?
The School for Good & Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the insanely wordy synopsis. Isn’t that f*cking ridiculous???? It’s a children’s book!!! (I say, immediately after having used a barely-censored curse word in a review of said children’s book.)
But AFGHASDFGASHDF THIS BOOK. I’ve never been more emotionally unstable in my life.
Far from true, but still. I’m torn up inside.
I love the premise of it so much it hurts me to try to put it into words. But I will suffer through this pain for you.
So, The School for Good and Evil focuses on Sophie and Agatha. Sophie is beautiful, shallow, and a bit of a snob. Agatha is ugly, insecure, and very kind. They live in a world in which fairytales happen, and every year, the two kindest and most terrible children, respectively, from their village are kidnapped, never to return.
But eventually, they show up in the fairytales the children read.
That’s actually one of about a thousand massive plot holes, but whatever. We’re not done yet, synopsis-wise.
Sophie is obsessed with the idea of ending up in a fairytale. Agatha dreads the idea of becoming a witch.
They’re both kidnapped, unsurprisingly. BUT PLOT TWIST: Agatha ends up in the School for Good, and Sophie, in the School for Evil.
DUN DUN DUN.
It’s actually a whole lot more boring than that. This book is a million pages long, and every possible bad side effect that could come with that does. It’s boring; it’s repetitive; it’s slow-moving; it’s filled with plot-holes; it’s supremely indecisive about its own themes, characters, and storylines.
That premise tho.
I am so fully torn on EVERYTHING ELSE about this book.
The characters: equal like and dislike. Agatha is pretty consistently adorable and likable; Sophie is occasionally a total badass, but most of the time so snobby and intolerable and mean. I just wanted her to accept her inner villain, and it was awesome when she did, BUT IT LASTED LIKE FIVE PAGES. Guh.
The relationships: equal like and dislike. There’s this guy Tedros who is a total babe, and Sophie targets him, but I kinda like the him/Agatha schtick? Except it’s always made to be sooooo dramaaaaatic and just…yuck. There’s a big friendship with Sophie and Agatha, which I normally love (yay female friendship!) but it’s just so problematic sometimes. To quote the great Britney Spears: “toxic.”
The themes: equal like and dislike. There’s a shaky theme of “no one is truly good or evil,” which is cool, except it completely ruins the chances of me seeing the badass villains I wanted so badly out of this book. It also seems like there’s some sort of attempt toward feminism, based off how short the princess end of the stick is compared to the princes’, but it never quite gets there???
The premise versus the execution: Seriously one of the most brilliant, creative worlds I’ve EVER EVEN HEARD OF, but the execution can be just awful. SO MUCH WASTED POTENTIAL I COULD CRY.
I don’t know. I guess I’ll read the sequel and see whether like or dislike wins out. (HA. Like whether “Good” or “Evil” wins in this book! I am so funny I impress even myself.)
But then I’ll probably still read the third one either way, because I am both a massive pushover baby and a glutton for literary punishment.
And I wonder why my average rating is so low.
But I digress.
Oh! I almost forgot! This absolutely, no way no how, is a children’s book. Nor is it YA. Nor should the characters be 12, or however old they are. That’s digusting.
Bottom line: I DON’T KNOW. WHO KNOWS.