cover image The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil

Soman Chainani, illus. by Iacopo Bruno. Harper, $16.99 (496p) ISBN 978-0-06-210489-2

At first glance, Chainani's debut appears to resemble the trend-following herd. There's the secret school that sorts its students into apparently predestined categories, courtesy of J.K. Rowling. There's the knowing, slightly shocking narration, full of farts and greasy hair, borrowed from Roald Dahl via Lemony Snicket. But Chainani's story gradually takes on dimension. Sophie and Agatha are plucked from their hometown of Gavaldon, where children are voracious readers of fairy tales. A skeletal bird drops them at the School for Good and Evil, populated by the living embodiments of these tales%E2%80%94princesses, princes, and villains in training. The girls soon discover, however, that these fledgling stereotypes have never read the stories. Sophie and Agatha are the only "Readers" in their class%E2%80%94shunned, mocked, but also feared. While the notion that conventions of good and evil don't tell the whole truth is hardly new, exploring the middle ground moves Chainani's novel out of its own ruts and, in the process, shows readers a hyperactively imaginative way to leave black-and-white thinking behind. Ages 8%E2%80%9312. Agent: Jane Startz, Jane Startz Productions. (May)