Review: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin

A deliciously creepy take on Hansel and Gretel with elements of The Witches, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy is a solid debut novel from author Nikki Loftin. She provides middle-grade readers a story with well-developed characters, a plot that’s full of surprises, and strong friendships.

Lorelei has dealt with a lot the past year: the death of her mother, her father’s remarriage to her evil stepmother Molly, and now her school has burnt down. But just before she’s forced to hike all the way across town each morning, Splendid Academy opens right down the street. This school has everything a kid could want from the ultimate playground to candy bowls at your desk to virtually no rules! But is this academy as sweet as it seems? Lorelei adores Principal Trapp. She’s beautiful, nice, and seems to understand Molly in a way that few others can. Her teacher, Ms. Morrigan, however, is a complete witch that gives Molly the creeps from the get go. So when Andrew, the class outcast, shows Lorelei some disturbing behavior the school brings out in their classmates, the pair team up to save their peers and form a heart-warming friendship.

Loftin has created a story with well-defined characters that have quirky characteristics. Children who fit into the middle-grade age group are just beginning to come into their own and tend to butt heads with authority a bit, so they will likely empathize with Lorelei’s problems with the adults in her life. In Splendid, most of the adults are evil or just can’t help her. Her teacher, Ms. Morrigan, and the new music teacher definitely have mean streaks. Lorelei’s new stepmother, Molly, is having a difficult time balancing the responsibilities of being a mom with what she wants. Loftin sets her up so that I was constantly wondering if she is eviler than she seems. And, even Lorelei’ dad is unable to help her. Still recovering from the death of his wife and trying to help Molly and the children come to terms with one another, Dad is having trouble coping with less-immediate-but-still-important problems in their lives, like Lorelei’s writing issues or her problems with her teachers. He has a tendency to be dismissive of his daughter’s concerns, not out of a lack of concern but just out of an inability to deal.

Even though Splendid is based on a fairy tale, it tackles real issues that children face: obesity, peer pressure, bullying, and dysplasia, to name a few. Many of the characteristics that are considered negative in our culture work out to be a plus for the kids at Splendid Academy. For example, if Andrew did not have weight issues, he would never have noticed the other students’ weird reaction to the school. Or, if there wasn’t bullying on the playground, its curious ingredient would never have been uncovered.

Nikki Loftin has written a fantastic present-day spin on a treasured fairy tale. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy was a quick read that drew me in and kept me guessing throughout the story.

4 stars

Here is the description from Goodreads:

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!

I received the ARC for this review as a part of the tour organized by Jen at I Read Banned Books.

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