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As the year draws to a close, I find myself super-reading my way through books to meet my Goodreads year-end goal. Though everything gets my full attention, nothing so far has commanded it. Ergo, nothing worth fully recapping. However, in the interest of keeping myself honest, some quick recaps and thoughts on some titles that have crossed my path recently. Spoilers for The School for Good and Evil, Red, and Lemonade Mouth Puckers Up to follow…

The School for Good and Evil, by Sonam Chainani, does what it says on the tin. Teens Sophie and Agatha, a blond do-gooder and a dark-haired sullen girl who lives in a cemetery, respectively, get recruited by a shadow in the night to attend the School for Good and Evil. In this world, fairy tales are very much real, and fairy tales are born from the graduates of the school, which contains a tower for the wannabe princes and princes of Good (Evers) and a tower for wannabe witches and henchmen of Evil (Nevers). Sophie, who sacrifices hometown popularity to be Agatha’s best friend, is assumed to be the student of Good, while twisted little cruller Agatha is naturally expected to become a student of Evil. Then some birds switch them! As classes go on, we realize that Agatha really does believe in self-sacrifice for the sake of friendship (Sophie is her only friend, after all), and Sophie will scheme and plan and pull off whatever she can to get what she wants. So maybe they’re in the right schools after all, hyuk hyuk! But then there’s a lot going on where the students of Good aren’t really all that great, as they’re mostly self-serving, egotistical, and horrifically biased against the perceived ugliness of Agatha (who, as it turns out, happens to be an excellent student in both schools). And Sophie does kinda sorta murder a guy and get away with it for a long time before anyone notices. Actually, now that I think about it, they notice he goes missing and he eventually turns up dead, but I don’t think it’s ever revealed that she killed him. It’s dark, yo. In any case, the pacing gets a little weird, too much plot hinges on an ill-advised love triangle between the two girls and douche-prince Tedros (son of King Arthur), and not enough plot hinges on the mysterious School Master who brings students there, the village of Readers from which our protagonists are plucked (every other student, it’s worth noting, are the descendants of actual fairy tale characters; meanwhile, Sophie and Agatha have spent their whole lives reading stories about said characters), or the complicated bit of business that is the Storian, a sentient, magical pen that’s dictating the story of the girls as they slowly bring their schools to war. A quick jaunt to Goodreads revealed that this is apparently the first book in the series, so hopefully these issues will be resolved, but I can’t guarantee I’ll be sticking around to see it.

Alison Cherry’s Red is based on the premise that there exists a town called Scarletville where redheads are treated like local royalty. Heroine Felicity, daughter of local celebrity (ex-pageant queen) Ginger St. John, and pageant hopeful herself, is harboring a terrible secret: instead of being the gorgeous shade of redhead everyone assumes she is, she has the sins of being a strawbie (strawberry blond), and worse, an artie (artificial color). There exists an incredibly secret, hidden dye salon where the entry code changes all the time and all of the patrons are under assumed names, because the mayor is heavily searching for this society-crushing hair salon. Any weight this has is kind of taken away when one time Felicity goes to a non-Scarletville fast food joint and a girl is loudly proclaiming the name of the salon where she got her hair done, and Felicity’s entire world is thrown asunder. Not to mention that she’s being blackmailed by a local brunette into giving up things like prom queen nominations and her own ginger boyfriend. If this is meant as a satire, it’s one far too subtle for me to get, because everything is done so painfully seriously, such as the mild flirtation with a -gasp!- brunet boy. The whole thing is far too silly even for me, especially done with so much agonizing and angst. The idea that Felicity can get into community college completely for free because of her hair color, or the idea that her mother can get fired from her government job because of it, is all so ludicrous I just want to roll my eyes.

Lastly is Mark Peter Hughes’s Lemonade Mouth Puckers Up. I’ve blogged in the past of the original novel, Lemonade Mouth, which I highly enjoyed, and the sequel keeps up the same tone and same interesting characters. Where we last left our high school heroes, they’d been teetering on the edge of total success, the universe kicked them in the collective junk, and they went on to be much beloved and respected, while still maintaining their integrity. Essentially the same happens here: the band plays a local show and gets picked up by a famous talent agent, who sends them off on a whirlwind rise to potential fame, but they keep having to do things like Make Moral Decisions where they choose Right rather than Easy. You know how it goes. They go on a talent reality show and stop their successful audition midway through because they think the judges were too cruel to previous contestants (they are beloved by the internet). They get an ad campaign with a lip balm company, but go on a late-night talk show to do a performance maligning the ad’s insistence on photoshopping the teens beyond recognition (they are beloved by the internet). They are offered the chance to play an enormous festival by Stella’s hero Sista Slash, and have to bail out at the last second to visit Olivia’s mother in the hospital. One of the main themes of the book seems to be balance of the universe: for everything good that happens, something crappy comes along to balance it out. Sure, the band stands up for what they believe in and achieve mild popularity because of it, but they get in some hot water with the label for going off-script and end up firing their famous talent agent. They don’t get to do the big festival, but the festival loses Sista Slash so much money that she has to go on a small ‘replenish our funds’ tour and asks the band to be an opener. Is it setting up for a third novel? Perhaps. There is a definite ‘riding off into the sunset to create more beautiful music together’ tone to the end of it, which is hopeful and lovely, especially after all the personal crap all of the band members go through (suddenly reappearing mothers, teenage relationship drama, and the quest to find something to fill an unknown internal void, all of this is heavy stuff). If there’s more, I will read it eagerly, and if this is where our heroes end up, that’s okay, too.

And on a personal note, if you’d made it this far, today launches the start of my should’ve-done-it-sooner Twitter account, Casey Read This, where I will theoretically be keeping you all in touch with all the things I read that aren’t (necessarily) worth blogging about.

Happy Holidays!