Publisher: Penguin (Razorbill)
Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Type: ARC, for blog tour
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 ever kids's dream.
But Lorelei and her new friend Andrew are pretty sure it's too good to be true. Together they uncover the 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!
This book helped remind me why I still adore middlegrade.
It managed to be cute, sweet, genuinely emotional, and creepy, sometimes all within the span of a few pages. In a YA novel, that'd be almost bizarre; but in here? Not in the slightest. Children have such a fantastic array of emotions, and are so very capricious. They can switch from delighted to horrified to curious within the span of minutes. And they have this honest, black and white view of the world that has always fascinated me more than anything.
At first, this tripped me up. While some of the characters were wonderful and real and intensely likable--Lorelei, Andrew, even Brian, despite his jerkiness--some of them seemed to be flatly evil, with no redeeming traits to speak of. But then I remembered something, something I suppose I'd forgotten in the many months between my last middlegrade read. I remembered that simply because Lorelei perceived these people as purely awful did not mean they were, in actuality, evil incarnate; it was simply how she saw them. Lorelei is not a little kid, but even at her age, children have this tendency to make things out in such a way that the world is easier to grasp. There are blacks and whites, rights and wrongs, but there are no shades of gray.
I'd accepted this, so it came as a very, very pleasant surprise when Nikki Loftin showed me that Lorelei could see the shades of gray, at least a bit.
Even those characters that should be completely despicable, the ones you know you're supposed to hate, root against, hope for their demise, etc., were not the evil, mustache-twirling (hair-twirling, since they're female?) villains that one might find in a middlegrade book for the younger ages. They were terrible, yes, and I was rooting for Lorelei to defeat them, yes, but there were these small moments, these small emotions, that made them so very real, despite the fantastic circumstances.
I adored that. I adored every last character in here, but most of all, I adored Lorelei. She was sweet and troubled and determined and far, far better than most MCs you'll find in YA today. They could learn a thing or to from this girl, this eleven-year-old who loves her family and loves her friend and will do anything to save the people around her, no matter how they may act towards her.
That's not the only thing I was fond of. I liked the writing, simple and smooth; I liked the plot, with its fast, even pacing that rushed me through this in less than a day; I liked the whole concept, completely creepy and completely original. Granted, I guessed the main plot within the first 30 pages, but I do not fall within this book's intended audience. I suspect that for the average 7-12 year old, the plot will be a wonderful mystery.
More than all this, though, the characters made the story. Nikki Loftin has a real talent for creating characters that you can't help but love, and that, that guarantees I will read anything she writes, no matter the genre.
4.5 stars, but I loved the characters enough that it's being rounded to 5.