School for Nobodies

School for Nobodies was first published in 2020 and is Susie Bower’s debut novel. It is a fantasy story for young readers which focuses on a girl who travels to a mysterious boarding school in search of her missing twin. The novel stands alone, so you don’t need to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

It was not until her tenth birthday that Flynn finally learned her real name. After a fire killed her parents and left her scarred, she was forced to live with Sonia and Claude – two well-off adults who only adopted her to look generous. Things change when she receives the note on her birthday, revealing that she actually has a twin who is attending an nearby affluent boarding school.

Flynn orchestrates a way to force her adoptive parents to send her to that same school, but things go horribly wrong when they instead send her to the run-down school next door. The Cruet Establishment for Lost and Wayward Children is a reform school for children who prove difficult to handle. Students are stripped of their names and belongings until they earn the right to have them back. They also are forbidden to make any kind of contact with the neigbouring school children.

Flynn is determined to find a way to get to her twin, yet things seem to be impossible. However, that’s before she encounters the crow. The crow seems sinister but promises that it can unite the two of them on a special day, when a gateway between the two schools opens. Yet can she trust the crow, and will she possibly be able to get away from her horrible classmates?

School for Nobodies was a unique, if somewhat surreal, debut novel that I am certain will find its share of young fans. Although it does contain a few themes that young readers may find distressing, including parent deaths, it does not linger on these or describe them in any detail and therefore felt wholly appropriate for its target audience. While the novel was incredibly creative and did have a lot of charm, I unfortunately do have a few issues with its plot and characters.

Still, let’s start by taking a look at the things that School for Nobodies did well. The novel was very quick to find its feet and introduce both Flynn and the mysteries that sounded her life. The early chapters really reminded me of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, as Flynn quickly learns that her parents have kept secrets hidden from her and sets out to find a way to reunite with her missing sibling.

These early chapters quickly drew me into Flynn’s world. The novel is written in a way that is light and easily accessible. Although it’s not really a funny story, Flynn’s narrative and plan to get set off to boarding school are still incredibly amusing. As Flynn finally found herself dispatched to a gloomy and sinister boarding school, I was utterly hooked. Although her home life was bad, the school is a whole level worse!

While School for Nobodies always hints that magic is at work in the tale, most of the magic within this novel is really rather mundane. The school was bleak, but incredibly ordinary, and it rapidly became apparent that the story was (surprisingly) more about life in the circus. While Flynn’s first-person narrative was engaging, the mystery shrouding her origins was a little less so.

As Flynn starts to get more involved in school life, the focus of novel shifts more onto her time spent training to be an acrobat under the tutorage of Felix Gold – a partially-sighted former circus member. As they train, Mr Gold begins to gradually reveal the story of his life and the incident that took his sight. Unfortunately, this exposition is a little too heavy-handed. Eagle-eyed readers will figure out where this is going long before the truth dawns on the characters in the novel. The reveal of the identity of Flynn’s twin is also pretty obvious. I think had this sussed from their very first appearance.

While the climax of School for Nobodies is exciting, forcing all of the characters to work together in order to defeat a sinister villain, it unfortunately did not tie up all of the loose ends within the story. In fact, it even draws the reader’s attention to the fact that some things will never be explained! While this is realistic, it still felt weak in a stand-alone story. I was not even clear on why the villain has magical powers – or what the extent of these were – as they seem to be the only person in the story capable of doing such things. Yet, School for Nobodies did at least ultimately end on a positive note, which I am certain will delight young readers.

However, I did have some issues with the way that the characters were presented. While Flynn was a very sympathetic protagonist, I did not feel that the other students in the school received enough development. Saddo, Rule Boy and Custard’s real names were not even revealed until the climax, and largely came across as being unlikable for most of the story. We also learn very little about who they were before coming the school, as only Flynn and Feral’s pasts are explored in any real detail.

I was also disappointed that a majority of the adults in School for Nobodies did not get the comeuppance that they so blatantly deserved. Claude and Sonia did not face any ramifications for their abuse and, later, abandonment of Flynn. Mrs Cruet was described as being misunderstood, yet still ran an oddly cruel school and proved that she would quickly give up on any student that misbehaved. The villain was unrepentantly evil but seemed to have little motivation beyond this. Even Mr Gold, the kindest adult in the story, still sat by and allowed students to be stripped of their names and possessions.

So, all in all, I’m a bit on the fence with regards to how I feel about School for Nobodies. While it had a unique concept and was written in an engaging way, the plot did have some holes and a lot of the characterisation of the supporting cast felt shallow. It was not one of my favourites, but I am still curious to see what Bower will write next.

School for Nobodies can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Charlotte Taylor
    Aug 02, 2020 @ 13:40:21

    I hadn’t heard of this one yet; it sounds fun, despite its shortcomings, so thanks for the review!

    Reply

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