Review: ‘Flunked’ by Jen Calonita #FairyTaleReformSchool

Fairy Tale Reform School Flunked by Jen CalonitaI judged a book by its cover. And a little bit by its description. And it came up wanting.

The recent spate of fairy tale redux(es?) has produced many new tales to enjoy. They come with a built-in audience, and since most everyone knows the stories already, the reader already “gets” a lot of it. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to turn these legends on their heads, exploring them in a new and different way. Unfortunately, despite the intriguing plot, I am disappointed in this new series.

The Wicked Stepmother, of Cinderella fame, is so distressed by and repentant of her treatment of Cinderella that she has turned over a new leaf. She wants to encourage other villains to do the same, so she opens Fairy Tale Reform School. The former villains all teach there, and all of the troubled youth in Enchantasia are sent there to get, of course, reformed. Not all of the baddies are former ones, however; two of the most notorious, Gottie (who imprisoned Rapunzel in her tower) and Alva (the malefactor of Sleeping Beauty) are in hiding, refusing to change their ways.

There are four princesses who now rule over Enchantasia: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow White. Not everyone gets a happily ever after, though. Twelve-year-old Gilly Cobbler, the daughter of a poor shoemaker, is one of the many in Enchantasia who are struggling to help put food on the table. Gilly is a thief, and though she is pretty good, she is finally caught enough times to warrant a stay at FTRS (as it is referred to in the book). She does not know how long she has to remain there; and her family, which includes her parents, three brothers and two sisters, depend on her “abilities” more than they know. How will they survive?

Gilly plans to keep her nose clean so she can get out and get home quickly. No one’s going to change her. But she meets some other “inmates” and starts to let down her guard a bit. Then they start to suspect that there are things happening at the school that could harm not only the students, but the visiting princesses and even Enchantasia itself. Does Gilly want to get involved or get home?

It takes a long time for this story to get moving; and while the plot has loads of potential, it just doesn’t go anywhere. Naturally, we are supposed to be a little wary of the reformed villains; that makes for a great plot device. And the new friends that Gilly makes, from fairies to trolls to regular boys, allows for an interesting group of secondary character types. However, there’s just no depth to any of them, including Gilly. There’s also a “mean girl” who happens to be the sister of Snow White’s Wicked Queen, and her presence is jarring and out of place, especially since she shows her bad self in front of the WQ. If everyone who teaches there is supposedly repentant, why does the WQ allow Jocelyn to act the way she does?

The language used is clunky; there are many attempts at snark and a lot of slang used, both of which seem out of place in the fairy tale environment. The writing style attempts to sound like “something the kids’ll like.” Many of the character names are unusual, which normally doesn’t bother me, but they are so varied that they don’t sound like they are from the same story. I don’t know if Disney made up or owns the rights to the names of the villains, but I don’t understand why their “normal” names weren’t used. And at the story’s close, I had sort-of a Harry Potter déjà vu; as I reviewed Flunked in my head, I realized that the structure of the story, among other things, was quite similar. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but the narrative in no way lives up to that series.

Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School #1) by Jen Calonita was published March 3, 2015 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. A free copy of this book was given to Ink and Page in return for an honest review. Big thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley.

Rating: 2

Genre:Middle Grades Fiction Fantasy Paranormal
Ages: 9 to 13

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