Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy–Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei’s favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister?
It’s up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones–and might even pick them clean!
Mix one part magic, one part mystery, and just a dash of Grimm, and you’ve got the recipe for a cozy-creepy read that kids will gobble up like candy.
I will say upfront that if you call something a fairy tale retelling, I am probably going to read it. My love of fairy tales really knows no bounds, and I am always especially intrigued when an author sets the retelling in modern times. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is indeed set in modern times, and is one of those books where hardly anyone realizes just what’s happening and how odd (or magical) the occurrences are. The narrator is a fifth grade girl named Lorelai, who is still reeling from her mother’s death, which she feels she played a role in. It’s her secret guilt, and it’s basically burying her. When you combine what Lorelai is going through (she also struggles with a learning disability that her father won’t seek treatment for) with the fairy tale aspect, you get a book that is quite dark for its target age group, at least in my opinion. That’s not to say it’s over the top dark, because it’s not, but there’s really nothing fluffy about this book in the slightest.
The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, and definitely goes the way of the Grimm Brothers in terms of its “happily-ever-after” qualities. While her father marries her “stepmonster” Molly, a school is literally built over the weekend. When the school Lorelai was supposed to attend mysteriously burns down, her father and Molly decide to send Lorelai and her brother, Brian, to the new Splendid Academy. The school seems too good to be true: the children get two meals for free, the class sizes are fairly small, there are hardly any rules at all, and the playground is straight out of every single child’s combined imagination. But Lorelai and her classmate, Andrew, soon discover that something very strange is going on at the school, and become the only two to realize who’s really in charge and what the ultimate plan is for the students.
Considering that this is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, you can probably guess where this book goes in terms of its overall plot. But there were a lot of things that made me wince; Lorelai’s stepmonster is absolutely awful and I wanted to shake her father for not seeing just how terrible a person she really is; one of the teachers in the school treats the children absolutely terribly, which hurt my educator-trained heart; and Lorelai is clearly suffering from her mother’s death and no one has done a single thing for her. Add to that Andrew’s problem with obesity, and this book has no shortage of deep and dark topics. But I found it all to be handled really well; nothing was dumbed down in any way, but it was still something that’s readable and able to be comprehended by the age group that’s most likely going to be drawn to the book. I give the author two thumbs up for not shying away from the darkness and even embracing it at some points. I felt like it added a richness to the story that wouldn’t have otherwise been there if she’d gone made things “happily-ever-after” fluffy.
All in all, I found The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy to be a very enjoyable read. It deals with some heavy topics, particularly for the age group it’s marketed for, but it does it in a way that anyone would understand and be able to relate to the story. Throw in some fairy tale magic, a fabulous climax, and a headstrong main character, and you get a book that’s engaging and thought-provoking, without the completely over-the-top ending that usually occurs in the fairy tales we all know and love. If you want a book where the main character isn’t perfect, but takes control of her destiny and tries to right the wrongs in her life, then I’d definitely recommend this. It’s now available in North America from a bookseller of your choice.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.