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A Reader of Fictions: Review: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy

Author: Nikki Loftin
Pages: 284
Publisher: Razorbill
Source: Penguin Young Reader's Group via NetGalley

Description from Goodreads:
When Lorelei's old school mysteriously burns down, a new one appears practically overnight: Splendid Academy. Rock-climbing walls on the playground and golden bowls of candy on every desk? Gourmet meals in the cafeteria, served by waiters? Optional homework and two recess periods a day? It's every kids's dream.

But Lorelei and her new friend Andrew are pretty sure it's too good to be true. Together they uncover a sinister mystery, one with their teacher, the beautiful Ms. Morrigan, at the very center.

Then Andrew disappears. Lorelei has to save him, even if that means facing a past she'd like to forget – and taking on a teacher who's a real witch.

What Lorelei and Andrew discover chills their bones – and might even pick them clean!

First Sentence: "When my mom was alive, she read me stories every night."

Middle grade fiction is my new favorite thing. I still haven't read that much, but I have yet to be seriously disappointed by any of the ones I've picked up. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is incredibly delightful, one of my favorites thus far. Full of dark humor and classic fairy tale plot elements, it's a story that delighted me from beginning to end, giving me a perverse desire to eat everything.

If you pay attention to my little reading widget, you might know that it took me weeks to read this despite its brevity. This was my iPod touch book, for reading while in lines. I read a lot of it while waiting at the DMV so I could get my license renewed. Thank goodness I had a delightful book to buoy me up during that harrowingly mind-numbing experience. While, you could easily devour this delicious book in one sitting, it also worked well as a book to nibble at and savor. I had no trouble picking it back up after a week of not reading, the story remaining fresh in my mind.

I will say that TSSoSA is not a book you should read if you want to be surprised. Maybe if I were a middle grader, I would feel differently, but, as a lover of fairy tales, I always knew where the plot was headed. Sometimes, though, I think that's a good thing. There's something comforting about that, like a big ol' bowl of mashed potatoes. This retelling of Hansel and Gretel (with a whole bunch of other tales mixed in) does some unique clever things, but reads very much like a classic fairy tale.

Nikki Loftin's writing is simply perfectly matched to the tale. She's witty and clever. The story is told in first person by Lorelei. Unlike a lot of children's books, she's not a prodigy, just a regular girl. Her voice rings pure and authentic, complete with childish snits, self-recrimination, and problem solving. She struggles with feelings of guilt over her mother's death and anger at her father's marriage to the obnoxious Molly.

The one thing I don't get about TSSoSA is Molly. She certainly fills the role of evil stepmother incredibly well, money-grubbing and child-hating. However, I fail to see why Molly would ever have married Lorelei's dad. She obviously has expensive tastes and begrudges any money spent on the kids, but she married a poor man. Why? It really doesn't matter from a plot perspective, but I found myself musing on that a lot.

When Splendid Academy pops up over night in their little town, Bryan and Lorelei desperately want to go, lured by the siren call of the coolest playground ever. Due to the convenient burning of the local school and the affordable nature of Splendid, they get to go. Not only that, but it turns out to be every child's dream, school days consisting solely of breakfast, lunch, snack times, and recesses. I think I'm getting old because instead of being even slightly envious, I kept worrying about how much their education would be set back if they survived Splendid and went back to public education.

Also, I loved Andrew. He's Lorelei's only friend, the fattest boy in school. I feel like there are rarely fat people in fiction, and they are usually figures of mockery. Not so, Andrew. He does get mocked of course, children being terrible, vicious creatures (something Loftin does not flinch away from depicting), but he is obviously one of the best and smartest in the school. Even better, Andrew knows why he's overweight and is working on it, which has given him incredible self-control to the degree that he figures out what's going on at Splendid, having had to train himself not to pig out on food.

TSSoSA is utterly charming. If you're looking for a wonderful fairy tale, look no further. Get yourself a big bag of M&Ms and start reading!

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Quote: "'Use your imagination, Lorelei,' she'd say, 'and your whole life can be a ffairy tale.' I wanted that to be true. But I should have paid more attention to the fairy tales."

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Blogger Nori said...

This sounds wonderful! I need to get more into middle grade books too because I've mostly only loved them.

October 7, 2012 at 5:49 PM  
Blogger Kara_Malinczak said...

Glad you really like this one as i have it on my list. I read mg books as often as I can and I really like most of them. Glad you are starting to get into them, Christina. They are a lot of fun, and yes, many do have predictable plots, but that's great as I don't always like to think hard. LOL.

October 7, 2012 at 6:18 PM  
Blogger Jenni said...

Oooh this one sounds fun. I love fairy tale retellings and I have had some good luck with middle grade novels. I don't think I have read enough of them though, I really want to read the Lauren Oliver ones and I will add this one to that list. I see what you mean about questioning why someone who is clearly a money grubber married someone that she couldn't... grub off of.

October 7, 2012 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yes, Nori! You should read it. So cute!

October 8, 2012 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yup. Sometimes the plots do make me want to headdesk, but that's only when they hinge on something really obvious that the kids just can't figure out. Well, it does that here I guess, but it makes more sense in context, since magic and everything.

October 8, 2012 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh yeah, I really need to read Lauren Oliver's mg books. I'd sort of forgotten about them. Oops!

October 8, 2012 at 8:19 AM  

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