A DIFFICULT BOY

Indentured to prosperous Massachusetts merchant George Lyman, nine-year-old farmboy Ethan Root initially hates working with the moody, sharp-tongued bound boy everyone calls Paddy. His feelings change, however, after he learns that “Paddy” is an ethnic slur (the teenager’s name is actually Daniel) and sees Lyman viciously beat the lad. Soon Ethan himself is feeling the rod as well, but what recourse do the two have against their brutal employer? In 1839, none at all—until Ethan discovers that Lyman has been systematically cheating his customers out of their money, and Daniel out of his inheritance. Cast as the protagonist, Ethan is younger than the intended audience for this tale, but the central figures here are really Daniel and Lyman. Ultimately the former shows hidden depths of character, and the latter turns out to be, if not sympathetic, at least more than a cardboard villain. Though the resolution seems forcibly tidy, the sense that events are taking place in a different time, when people held different attitudes and expectations, comes through clearly. (Historical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 30, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2086-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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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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Ultimately more than a little full of itself, but well-stocked with big themes, inventively spun fairy-tale tropes, and...

THE LAST EVER AFTER

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 3

Good has won every fairy-tale contest with Evil for centuries, but a dark sorcerer’s scheme to turn the tables comes to fruition in this ponderous closer.

Broadening conflict swirls around frenemies Agatha and Sophie as the latter joins rejuvenated School Master Rafal, who has dispatched an army of villains from Capt. Hook to various evil stepmothers to take stabs (literally) at changing the ends of their stories. Meanwhile, amid a general slaughter of dwarves and billy goats, Agatha and her rigid but educable true love, Tedros, flee for protection to the League of Thirteen. This turns out to be a company of geriatric versions of characters, from Hansel and Gretel (in wheelchairs) to fat and shrewish Cinderella, led by an enigmatic Merlin. As the tale moves slowly toward climactic battles and choices, Chainani further lightens the load by stuffing it with memes ranging from a magic ring that must be destroyed and a “maleficent” gown for Sophie to this oddly familiar line: “Of all the tales in all the kingdoms in all the Woods, you had to walk into mine.” Rafal’s plan turns out to be an attempt to prove that love can be twisted into an instrument of Evil. Though the proposition eventually founders on the twin rocks of true friendship and family ties, talk of “balance” in the aftermath at least promises to give Evil a fighting chance in future fairy tales. Bruno’s polished vignettes at each chapter’s head and elsewhere add sophisticated visual notes.

Ultimately more than a little full of itself, but well-stocked with big themes, inventively spun fairy-tale tropes, and flashes of hilarity. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-210495-3

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2015

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