In the novel The School for Good and Evil, there is a village surrounded by woods, where every four years a mysterious entity, known as the School Master, comes along and snatches two children over the age of 12 from their beds. One of them is pure and kind and will be placed in the School of Good; the other is morbid and dark and will be placed in the School of Evil. Legend has it that upon arrival at these schools, students learn to be princesses and heroes or witches and hags—and then are placed into fairy tales, written by the illustrious Storian, a magical pen.
Sophie is a beautiful girl with long blond hair whose favorite pastimes include applying face masks and taking pity on her much more unfortunate and ugly friend, Agatha. All Sophie has ever wanted is to be a princess, to live a fantastic and magical life, like one found in a story book. Agatha, on the other hand, has only ever wanted to be left alone. She only ever agrees to spend time with Sophie due to her belief that Sophie is lonely. The two are an unlikely pair, and the entire town believes that they are the two fated to be stolen by the School Master. Unlike Sophie, the rest of the town’s children cower in fear of being taken away from their homes, never to see their family again; the good dirty their clothing and the bad brush their hair.
This book, though a middle grade read, is an impressive analysis of how appearance affects how we treat each other and how we think of ourselves. When Sophie and Agatha are taken and placed in the schools, the two are swapped, with Sophie going to the School of Evil to become a “Never” and Agatha going to the School of Good to become an “Ever.” Sophie keeps insisting that there has been a horrible mistake and attempts to switch places with Agatha. Agatha only wants to go home and be free from what she deems a nightmare. The two undergo lessons that are typical of either side. Sophie learns to cast dark spells and acquire henchmen, committing dark deeds without batting a perfectly maintained eyelash; Agatha learns to talk with animals and how to waltz, all the while discovering secrets of the Schools and the School Master. The two are sore thumbs, seeming so out of place in their respective schools. Sophie is accused of being weak and, because of her obvious distaste for her environment, alienates her peers. Agatha is feared and ridiculed by hers.
The two girls are foils of each other, but neither is purely good nor purely evil. Their friendship and their story illustrates the important themes of this book: the shades of gray found between dark and light; the capacity that all beings have for both selfishness and caring; and how you are as beautiful, smart, caring, good, or evil as you believe yourself to be.
This well written book is the first in a trilogy filled with vivid descriptions, scintillating dialogue, and lessons applicable to all ages. I highly recommend it to all, despite the young audience it is directed towards.