Review: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid AcademyThe Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin
Published by Razorbill on August 21, 2012
Genres: Adventure, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Mythology, Retelling
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Spooky twists and soaring prose make this foodie update on Hansel and Gretel an unforgettable must-read

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.

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!

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.”

6 responses to “Review: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy”

  1. Nori says:

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

  2. 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.

    • Christina says:

      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.

  3. 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.

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