Happy MMGM, Reading Nook!
This week, we're reviewing Flunked by Jen Calonita. It's a fun twist on classic fairytales, and also a great story on what it means to defy stereotypes, give second chances, and decide who you want to be.
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Published March 3rd 2015 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Format read: ARC via publisher
Full of regret, Cinderella's wicked stepmother, Flora, has founded the Fairy Tale Reform School with the mission of turning the wicked and criminally mischievous into upstanding members of Enchantasia.
Impish, sassy 12-year-old Gilly has a history of petty theft and she's not too sorry about it. When she lifts a hair clip, she gets tossed in reform school-for at least three months. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there's more to this school than its sweet mission. There's a battle brewing and she starts to wonder: can a villain really change?
In Flunked, Jen Calonita introduces us to twelve-year-old Gilly Cobbler, a young girl from an impoverished cobbling family. She's always turned to petty theft to help feed her siblings, until she's finally caught and sent to Fairy Tale Reform School (FTRS). FTRS is run by Cinderella's formerly wicked stepmother Flora, who has every intention of reforming the mischevious teens of Enchantasia into upstanding citizens. But Gilly learns that things aren't exactly what they seem at FTRS, and it's up to her to figure out what's going on...
While Calonita's story starts with familiar ground, integrating famous fairytale characters whom we know and love into a shared environment, it quickly evolves into a unique story about breaking sterotypes and giving second chances.
Gilly has spent much of her life resenting royalty and the status quo, because of her family's financial problems. But while thefts are easy for Gilly, Calonita is also careful to always show those moments where Gilly feels like she's seeing the reward for her efforts - e.g. a happy sister receiving a gift - and how she mentally uses that to justify the risk.
So it's hardly surprising when Gilly is sentenced to FTRS after three strikes, she believes that she doesn't have anything in common with the other students, and is determined to leave. This desire is only emphasized when she realizes that even within reform school, there are biases - and people feel biased against her family's cobbler profession.
However, Calonita smartly creates a student body compsed of an interesting mix of villiains and other overlooked members of society, many of whom begin to show Gilly that she's not alone in her beliefs and convictions. There are important lessons here on what it means to walk in other people's shoes and learning to see beyond surface differences, which readers - particularly the younger ones - will appreciate.
Consequently, it's with that knowledge that Gilly feels motivated to begin to get down to the bottom of mysterious happenings that have been taking across the school, including going out of her way to protect members of royalty whom she once despised, and at the possible risk of her own freedom. Gilly's change of heart on once deeply-held prejudices, will also encourage readers to reexamine their own beliefs, likely for the better. Not surprisingly, this encourages others to reexamine their beliefs and prejudices of Gilly, as well.
Without giving spoilers away, this is a wonderful story that really challenges readers to look beyond surface beliefs, and decide the truth of a situation. It's this honesty that makes Flunked, the best fairytale.
While there are definitely some darker elements in the book, Jen Calonita remains true to the idea that happily ever - even just for now - is absolutely possible. But what's even better, is the fact that the happily ever after in the book isn't the result of someone sweeping in and fixing all of Gilly's problems. It's Gilly herself who makes the brave decision to change, and helps others change in the process.
I highly recommend this cheery, wonderful read for the young readers in your life, particularly for those readers who enjoy movies like Frozen.
About the author:
JEN CALONITA has interviewed everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Justin Timberlake, but the only person she's ever wanted to trade places with is Disney's Cinderella. When Jen isn't plotting, she's working on the sequel to FTRS in Merrick, New York where she lives with her husband, two sons, and their Chihuahua, Captain Jack Sparrow. Visit Jen at jencalonitaonline.com.