Two Minute Review: The Sinister Sweetness of Splended Academy by Nikki Loftin

Sunday, September 9, 2012
Title: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy
Author: Nikki Loftin
Genre: middle grade, supernatural fiction, mythic fiction, retellings
Series: N/A
Pages: 304 (Nook ARC edition)
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

When Lorelei's old school mysteriously burns down, a new one appears practically overnight: Splendid Academy. Rock-climbing walls on the playground and golden bowls of candy on every desk? Gourmet meals in the cafeteria, served by waiters? Optional homework and two recess periods a day? It's every kids's dream.

But Lorelei and her new friend Andrew are pretty sure it's too good to be true. Together they uncover a sinister mystery, one with their teacher, the beautiful Ms. Morrigan, at the very center.

Then Andrew disappears. Lorelei has to save him, even if that means facing a past she'd like to forget – and taking on a teacher who's a real witch.

What Lorelei and Andrew discover chills their bones – and might even pick them clean!

It's not the fault of The Sinister Sweetness of Academy, but I would've probably enjoyed this much more had I not read it the day after reading - and being floored by - Lauren Oliver's exceptional The Spindlers Oliver's tale has more depth, meaning, and is told with  much more eloquent and lyrical writing - all of which make it stand heads above this modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel. While this novel is entertaining, occasionally creepy, and darkly told, much like The Spindlers, it lacks the heart and the charismatic protagonist that made that middle-grade novel such a hit with me. While The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is far from a bad book, it just could've have been so much more.

To the credit of the author and the novel, it is the human problems that Lorelei must overcome that stand out and resonate with readers. Despite battling three witches out to eat fat, trusting American children, it is Lorelei's personal struggle to get past her guilt and self-hatred over an incident in her past that makes her relate-able, and likeable. A clear homage to the myth that inspired the tale, the supernatural witches are creepy, insidious, and it takes smart children to see the danger their parents are blinded to and save themselves. Subtle lessons about key problems with today's society like self-worth, love, bullying, and even obesity are incorporated into the story and will make this a book worth reading for the younger set.

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is a well-written and detailed middle grade novel. If it falls short of the awesomemark left by the Spindlers, it is still a relevant, simple, fun and fast read. The few illustrations scattered through the ARC help to create a vaguely unsettling mood that builds more and more tension and the pages turn and Lorelei slowly uncovers who the real monster in her life is. I enjoyed this - just not as much as I had hoped.

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