A tale that’s half engaging but never effectively plumbs its full potential.

A POSSIBILITY OF WHALES

Rivers introduces two middle schoolers who could help each other: Natalia, the motherless, paparazzi-plagued daughter of a loving, famous actor, and Harry, a transgender classmate who’s embracing his male identity in spite of his intolerant father’s rejection of his true self.

Natalia, new to Harry’s small, Canadian community, and her earnest, ebullient father, Xan Gallagher, share an understanding of the boy’s needs, but her classmates are more inclined toward ridicule. Unfortunately for Natalia, in an effort to find accepting male friends, Harry often pushes back against her yearning for a BFF. She needs one badly. Adolescence is sneaking up on her; it’s not a change she welcomes, and she feels it’s especially hard to navigate this complicated passage without the mother who apparently rejected her at birth. A scene in which she tries to select products for her first—unexpected—period in a supermarket is especially touching. Harry’s situation is ultimately helped by Xan’s intervention with Harry’s mildly star-struck parents. The tale is told in alternating third-person voices, but Natalia’s is far better captured than Harry’s; his complex needs and emotions are never fully explored the way Natalia’s are. In fact, Harry’s predictable history of transphobic assault, forced use of the girls’ bathroom, humiliation in front of his classmates, and constant deadnaming make him a collection of the pitiable tropes that are familiar to cis audiences but likely discouraging and alienating to trans readers. Harry, Natalia, and Xan all present as white.

A tale that’s half engaging but never effectively plumbs its full potential. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61620-723-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

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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Series fans may enjoy this patched-together prelude.

RISE OF THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series

Twin wizards duel, fret, switch roles, and fall for the same guy in this prequel to the popular series.

Continuing on the theme that it isn’t as easy to distinguish good from evil as it might seem, Chainani goes back to a time when the titular school was run by a pair of immortal adolescents. School Masters Rhian and Rafal have been told that loving one another is the only way to maintain the balance between Good and Evil at the school, but a long run of folk and fairy tales written out by the mysterious pen called the Storian—in which Good triumphs—has led to a fraternal rift. The assignment of decided scapegrace Aladdin to, astonishingly, the School for Good widens the antagonism (could the Storian have made a mistake?). But though Aladdin is the main point-of-view character for major stretches in the early going, no sooner does he hook up with dazzling schoolmate Princess Kyma than the author shoves him deep into the supporting cast to make room for a jealousy-fueled break and some bad behavior that comes when first Rafal then Rhian lock gazes and lips with pirate trainee James Hook (latest of a long line of villains defeated by a certain other ageless teen). Most of the cast reads as White. Lush but rare illustrations underscore dramatic incidents.

Series fans may enjoy this patched-together prelude. (Fantasy. 11-14)

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316152-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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