Thursday, July 16, 2015

REVIEW: Flunked by Jen Calonita (Fairy Tale Reform School)

Fairy Tale Reform School, bk 1
by Jen Calonita
Juvenile Fiction/Fairy Tale
4 stars

How is it that fairy tale retellings can still be popping up all over the place? Haven't we had enough of those already? The answer is no, because authors like Jen Calonita keep finding ways to make the classics fresh again. Until they can't do that anymore, retellings are here to stay. (And I love it!)

The little twist that makes Flunked so much fun is The Fairy Tale Reform School. Known throughout Enchantasia as the place where all bad kids go, it's run by Princess Ella's not-so-wicked-anymore stepmother, and the faculty includes her two daughters, Snow White's stepmother, a sea witch, and the Big Bad Wolf. When 12-year-old Gillian is caught stealing one times too many, she's sent packing from her family's shoe and into the waiting clutches of these supposedly reformed villains.

Soon, Gilly's suspicions are aroused by odd behavior from the teachers and the occasional gargoyle attack. Mystery starts crawling out of the woodwork as she and her new friend Jax begin investigating the oddities, especially once they learn that the princesses of Enchantasia -and the prey of the faculty's former nefarious activities- are coming to FTRS for a visiting day. Someone is out to harm the princesses, and who can Gilly trust in a school full of former villains?

The idea of a reform school for would-be villains is brilliant. It's so much fun getting to see not only our classic villains, but a band of mischievous juvenile delinquents all in one place.

Gilly has some great character development. Her string of petty thefts that lead to her stay at FTRS are born of necessity. At least, that's what she tells herself. As events push her to examine the lines between 'good' and 'evil', Gilly begins to realize the easy answers aren't always the best. And in a place where would-be villains go to amend their evil ways, Gilly learns what it is to be a hero.

I love Gilly's spunk and sass; it keeps the pages turning and the story upbeat. But I admit my favorite character here was her friend Jax, fellow thief and cocky troublemaker. (It's entirely possible this was born of his striking similarities to Chase Turnleaf, another favorite of mine, since I was just coming off the high of finishing The Ever Afters by Shelby Bach when I started this.)

There are great characters throughout the story, but it really benefits from the inclusion of so many former villains. How many of us love a bad-guy-wants-to-turn-good story? How many more of us obsess over bad guys WE want to turn good? I love seeing the villains used in this new way. It makes the story fun and unique.

Some elements of Flunked were predictable, but it was still a fun romp. A good book for anyone who loves fairy tales, and especially for the younger readers.

There is currently a Goodreads Givewaway for this book, so head over there and see if you can win a copy!

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