Droll farce yields to intriguing mystery, leaving the seams between them showing



When an overbearing headmistress and her odious brother drop dead, seven Victorian schoolgirls decide to run their school without adult interference.

It’s an ordinary Sunday dinner at Saint Ethelreda’s School for Young Ladies until Mrs. Plackett and Mr. Aldous Godding choke on their veal and fall over, dead as a pair of unpleasant doornails. All of the seven students at Saint Ethelreda’s, from Dull Martha to Dour Elinor, are horrified at the notion of their inevitable separation. Once they tell the authorities about Mrs. Plackett’s death, surely they will all be sent back home to their dreadful families and shunted off to far worse schools. All seems lost until Smooth Kitty asks the others, what if they just don’t tell the authorities about their headmistress’s untimely demise? What follows is classic farce, as the young ladies spend the rest of that evening desperately hiding the corpses and their headmistress’s absence from an unprecedented stream of callers. Stout Alice is disguised as Mrs. Plackett, Disgraceful Mary Jane initiates the garden gravedigging, and Pocked Louise helpfully adopts a puppy. A third of the way through the novel, the breakneck shenanigans abruptly settle, becoming merely the backdrop of a fairly classic drawing-room mystery. The young ladies are charming and their problem-solving ingenious, though the epithets used to describe them—it is never “Roberta,” always “Dear Roberta”—get old very quickly.

Droll farce yields to intriguing mystery, leaving the seams between them showing . (Farce/mystery. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59643-956-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.


From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Clever as ever—if slow off the mark—and positively laden with tics, quirks, and puns.


From the Mysterious Benedict Society series , Vol. 4

When deadly minions of archvillain Ledroptha Curtain escape from prison, the talented young protégés of his twin brother, Nicholas Benedict, reunite for a new round of desperate ploys and ingenious trickery.

Stewart sets the reunion of cerebral Reynie Muldoon Perumal, hypercapable Kate Wetherall, shy scientific genius George “Sticky” Washington, and spectacularly sullen telepath Constance Contraire a few years after the previous episode, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (2009). Providing relief from the quartet’s continual internecine squabbling and self-analysis, he trucks in Tai Li, a grubby, precociously verbal 5-year-old orphan who also happens to be telepathic. (Just to even the playing field a bit, the bad guys get a telepath too.) Series fans will know to be patient in wading through all the angst, arguments, and flurries of significant nose-tapping (occasionally in unison), for when the main action does at long last get under way—the five don’t even set out from Mr. Benedict’s mansion together until more than halfway through—the Society returns to Nomansan Island (get it?), the site of their first mission, for chases, narrow squeaks, hastily revised stratagems, and heroic exploits that culminate in a characteristically byzantine whirl of climactic twists, triumphs, and revelations. Except for brown-skinned George and olive-complected, presumably Asian-descended Tai, the central cast defaults to white; Reynie’s adoptive mother is South Asian.

Clever as ever—if slow off the mark—and positively laden with tics, quirks, and puns. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-45264-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Megan Tingley/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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