“The School for Good and Evil” author Soman Chainani took inspiration for his narration point of view from the one and only Taylor Swift.
“I, growing up was super over-emotional, especially when it came to romance and boys and all those things,” he told TheWrap in an interview. “I always used to say, ‘Look, if Taylor Swift can make so much money writing music about the boys she hates, why can’t I?’ That sort of stuck with me. I just think whatever she’s doing, ‘Pay attention.’””
Netflix’s film adaptation of “The School for Good and Evil” took almost ten years to get made. Chainani published the first book in 2013, turning the first page in the fairytale of Sophie (portrayed by Sophia Anne Caruso in the film) and Agatha (Sophia Wylie), two best friends who find themselves in what they think are the wrong spots in the not-just-legendary school.
“When I wanted to write a young adult piece of work, I thought ‘I just think with female protagonists you can be so much more emotionally honest’ because when you do male protagonists — and I’ve written plenty of books since from a male teenage perspective — the emotions always have to be covered,” he continued. “There’s always this feeling of, if you’re angry at someone, you’re not gonna express it, there’s going to be some sort of outburst or physical action or something in an attempt to cover or distract from it or you can’t just go straight at it. I just feel like with two girls, you can just build the emotion so the emotion can really reach sort of a fever pitch.”
He also argues that the female perspective of “The School for Good and Evil” sets it further apart from books like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, because though these fantastical and mythological series share threads of world-building with Chainani’s books, they mainly see the story from a hero’s view, and that hero happens to be a boy.
“It’s very different because I love Rick Riordan’s books and ‘Percy Jackson.’ I think the interesting thing about ‘Percy Jackson’ is it feels so anchored in the male perspective, like ‘Potter’ did. ‘Potter and ‘Percy Jackson’ to me feel like they’re the same kind of universe, which is the hero’s journey. I just feel like mine has such a female perspective. The males are the damsels in distress in the books. You’re so used to the princess in the dress or whatever. The princes are the ones who have to be rescued and the princesses are the ones always suffering, and the girls are always there to save. The energy is different, but at the same time, I think just like ‘Potter’ and ‘Percy Jackson,’ the reason this has been popular is because it gives you that huge world and all those storylines and all those characters and it’s super complex, and I think young readers especially want very sophisticated stories.”
Though Sophie and Agatha go through their ups and downs on opposite sides of the school, the rollercoaster only seems to strengthen their friendship and understanding of each other, which receives more emphasis than any love triangle subplot.
“What I really wanted to say is your friendships often are the deepest love you’ll ever have because it’s chosen love more than your family, and romantic relationships are sort of a lottery. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t,” Chainani said. “But friendships, when you find a good one, they have more ups and downs and more endurance than your romantic relationships. I wanted the story to really be told about the power of friendship at its core.”
A culture shift (remember, this film has been 10 years in the making) led to the change in reaction to interpreting of the final kiss at the end of the book and film between Agatha and Sophie.
“I thought it was so important that the kiss on the lips at the end was out of friendship because it was like this girl was everything to her and it was her whole life and yes, it’s not gonna be a romantic kiss, but it’s gonna be as intense and full of love,” he said. “I remember when the books came out, there was all this gay panic over that scene. And now of course, 10 years later, on TikTok, it’s like ‘Oh, it’s not gay enough.’ The way the world changes, that’s all just sort of cultural shifts, and that’s just winds of change, but the theme to me was always gonna be the same. You could put the two girls together or something like that, but to me it’s not as as unique in this particular case of a fairytale of telling the story about the true meaning of friendship.”
Chainani also enjoys planting Easter eggs, specifically in the titles of his books tying together. Just like Swift, the architect behind such an archetypal world recognizes the borderline craziness of his fandom.
“I do it in the books all the time. Every book teases the title for the next one in a secret way. I have all kinds of like, fun little clues because it’s an entire universe,” he said. “I also love it in the marketing [and] like I said, I love Taylor Swift. So I love to see the way that she plays puzzles and things like that. I’m always sort of doing that here and there because it’s cool and the fans, I mean, they will completely identify with this, They are insane. It’s like all the smartest, most like literary minded kids from middle school converged on these books. And so they are all about, you know, decoding and tearing apart everything. So I try to give them content to play with.”
“The School for Good and Evil” is now streaming on Netflix.