Sara General is one of the hashtag leaders of the Twitter Monthly Challenge, and that is how I first saw her book The School That Ate Children. The pretty cover caught my attention and then the title intrigued me. It’s a short book, only 132 pages, and only 10 CAD so I – almost – didn’t think twice about it and ordered on Amazon (in fact, I didn’t even read the blurb).
First of all, I need to say it: it didn’t “feel self-published”. It felt professionally published in every aspect. There are plenty of traditionally published books of equal (or lesser) quality. So +1 to my confidence in indie books. However, it does feel like a debut novel (which it is, if I’m not mistaken), in that it could be more refined. Still, I think the author did a pretty good job.
It was an enjoyable read. It wasn’t quite what I expected from the title, most of the story doesn’t happen in the school, but it was fun nonetheless. I thought it resembled a bit The Wizard of Oz.
It took some time before I really got into the story, but when I did, it only got better and better as it unfolded. I often feel like middles are weak, but in this case, I think the middle is the strongest part of the story. Bravo, nice mastery of plot!
The characters were not as three-dimensional as I would have liked. It took me several chapters time to start rooting for Maple, and even at the end she did not quite “jump from the page”. Not that she behaved in any way that wasn’t “human”. I just… failed to feel her soul. Part of it might be due to the third person narrator; part of it might be due to the fact that the intended audience is probably middle-grade. I’m totally in love with Oakley though!
I loved the world beyond the veil and the creatures in it, most likely inspired by the author’s aboriginal culture. I found it original and inspiring. It made me want to work on my MG high fantasy again. And making me yearn to write is a definite quality in a story. Oh, and now I so want an acorn necklace!
Last but not least: theme. The themes of grief and self-acceptance are what the story really is about. They are very strong – too strong in my opinion. Some parts of the book sounded like self-help rather than fiction, with the subtlety of medicine forced down your throat. I think it would have worked better if it had been toned down; mix that medicine in my food I don’t realise I’m ingesting it, but still feel its effects.
Who would I recommend this to? Fans of stories like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, or even The Chronicles of Narnia. Possibly amateurs of First Nations legends though honestly, I wouldn’t know; I’ve read only a few such stories. And really, anyone who feels intrigued by the premise; do give it a try, it’s worth it.
I’ll be looking forward to more books by Sara General as she refines her style.