The newest kids’ trilogy to hit bookstores is the action-packed “The School for Good and Evil” (HarperCollins, $16.99) by Soman Chainani. The premise: Every four years, two children are kidnapped from a village. They are enrolled in the School for Good and Evil, where the good study to be fairy tale prince and princesses, and the bad train to be villains. The story is filled with battles, monsters and spells.
When the beautiful, long-haired Sophie and the unattractive, reclusive Agatha are kidnapped, Sophie is shocked when she is placed in the School for Evil and Agatha in the School for Good. It’s clearly a mistake – or is it?
The first book in the series, for ages 8 to 12, came out May 14 and already has been optioned for a movie by Universal for a seven-figure sum. Newsday spoke with Chainani, 33, of Manhattan, who is working on the second book now:
Q. How did you get interested in fairy tales?
A. When I was young I didn’t have cable or Internet or anything like that because I grew up in the 1980s. All we had was a rickety TV and Disney movies on VHS. We used to just watch them over and over again, until we had every line memorized.
Q. Then what happened?
A. Then when I went to Harvard, I took a freshman seminar with this famous fairy tale expert. Studying the original fairy tales, I just was so shocked. They were just so gross and bawdy and violent. It was what the kids read and loved 200 years ago. The question I kept having was, What happened? Why are we watching such sanitized versions of the stories? I also wrote my thesis on female villains, and why female villains are so much more compelling than male villains. They can’t rely on brute strength. They can’t overpower or blow up things. It’s all about seduction and manipulation and deception.
Q. Why did you write this particular book?
A. I am such a fan of Disney, but I despise the princess brand. They take the princesses from the stories and create this commercial brand around them where all the princesses share this love of pink and sparkly things in order to sell merchandise. Part of the goal with the book was to take a Disney-esque princess and introduce her with all the audience thinking she’s a hero and then slowly deconstruct her so by the end she’s the worst villain we’ve ever seen.
Q. What is it about Sophie that’s bad?
A. I think it’s going to come out in the next two books more of where that came from. She’s brainwashed by the stories she reads. It’s this idea that if you somehow find the prince you’ll be happy forever. Be weak, be beautiful, wait for a prince to find you and everything is going to be okay. She buys into that, but she’s also ferociously ambitious. She’s doing everything she can to manipulate her way to that happy ending. I almost feel with her there’s no romantic interest in the prince, it’s just she needs a prince in order to complete the fairy tale.
Q. Is there a lesson in the book?
A. The kids are realizing that not everything is as black and white as they’re raised to believe sometimes. They all should be going to the school for good AND evil because they’re capable of both. Everybody is.
Q. Can you give us an idea of what the second book, scheduled to come out next summer, will be about?
A. It’s called “A World Without Princes.” Rivalry between the boys and girls is a bigger thing that’s going to come out in the trilogy. I wanted the themes of the three books to be good vs. evil, girls vs. boys and young vs. old. By the end of the first book you don’t really know what good and evil is. By the end of the second book, the whole boy/girl definition seems a lot muddier. And the third book, young and old have different meanings too. It just about messing with these sides. The third book will come out the summer of 2015.
Q. When will the movie come out?
A. I think it will be 2015.
Q. Any idea who will star?
A. No idea yet.