Disappointingly fails to coalesce.


Sometimes the scariest thing is growing up.

Halloween-loving Esther, who is implied Ashkenazi Jewish and White, has had her bat mitzvah, which makes her an adult in religious terms, but she’s not ready to let go of trick-or-treating, even when her parents say otherwise. She’s also not ready to move on to high school or to do anything about her feelings for her best friend, Agustín, whose name may cue him as Latinx. But when the Queen of Halloween freezes their neighborhood in permanent Halloween, Esther finds herself reconsidering the value of forward momentum. Fink, of Welcome to Night Vale podcast fame, tries to do a lot with his creepy premise, but heavy-handed, meaning-laden passages—for example, digressions about neighbors as Esther and friends flee through yards chased by a villain flinging razor-bristling apples—slow the pace to a crawl and leave little for the reader to discover. Esther is joined in her fight against the Halloween Queen (who has sent the adults into a magical Dream and stolen the children) by Agustín; Korean American Christian bully Sasha; and seemingly boring, default White dentist Mr. Gabler, all of whom serve as foils for Esther’s emotional growth as she learns to see past the surface. This reads like two books uneasily combined: one about growing up and discovering people’s value and the other a horror story with a fantastic sense of place and some wonderfully shivery (and not entirely resolved) details.

Disappointingly fails to coalesce. (Horror. 11-14)

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-302097-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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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.


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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Series fans may enjoy this patched-together prelude.


From the School for Good and Evil series

Twin wizards duel, fret, switch roles, and fall for the same guy in this prequel to the popular series.

Continuing on the theme that it isn’t as easy to distinguish good from evil as it might seem, Chainani goes back to a time when the titular school was run by a pair of immortal adolescents. School Masters Rhian and Rafal have been told that loving one another is the only way to maintain the balance between Good and Evil at the school, but a long run of folk and fairy tales written out by the mysterious pen called the Storian—in which Good triumphs—has led to a fraternal rift. The assignment of decided scapegrace Aladdin to, astonishingly, the School for Good widens the antagonism (could the Storian have made a mistake?). But though Aladdin is the main point-of-view character for major stretches in the early going, no sooner does he hook up with dazzling schoolmate Princess Kyma than the author shoves him deep into the supporting cast to make room for a jealousy-fueled break and some bad behavior that comes when first Rafal then Rhian lock gazes and lips with pirate trainee James Hook (latest of a long line of villains defeated by a certain other ageless teen). Most of the cast reads as White. Lush but rare illustrations underscore dramatic incidents.

Series fans may enjoy this patched-together prelude. (Fantasy. 11-14)

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316152-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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