The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill, 2012, middle grade).
Imagine the most beautifully breathtaking school you can--with a playground that sends a siren song into any child's heart, a cafeteria designed for fine dining, a school where each child has a dish of candy in their desks that never gets empty, and all seems designed to make every student happy....
That's Splendid Academy, where Lorelie and her brother are being sent; it's approved of by her new step-mother (not a universally welcome addition to her family). And although sweet as all get out on the outside, Splendid Academy has a rotten core. A kind of deadly, magical, rotten-as-all-get-out core....
Because all the lovely food, bags and plates and bowls of delicious food, pressed upon the students by the beautiful teachers, isn't for the benefit of the children growing fatter every day.
Lorelie, though, is not like other students. She has a dark secret of her own, one that ironically will be her armour during the days can come, as, bit by bit, the horror of her new school unfolds.
I don't know if I would have seen it myself, because I can be Dim at times, but this is a retelling of Hansel and Gretal--and a good one too (not that I've ever read any book length retellings of it, but still). The whole package of Splendid Academy makes a believable whole, magic and all....and Lorelie's own journey of discovery, the actions she took and her motivations, all made sense to me.
Her older brother was not, as one might expect, the "Hansel Figure." In fact, the older brother was pretty much a non character, and the part of Hansel was played by another classmate, Andrew, a boy who arrived at Splendid Academy already overweight. Loftin does, I think, a fine job with Andrew, avoiding fat kid stereotypes and making him an insightful, sympathetic character who does not miraculously have to become thin in order to be a valued, attractive, person.
It's a pretty dark book (about as dark as the original fairy tale), but it's a darkness of gradually building horror rather than grotesque violence. I don't think, though, that the horror overwhelms the story. Lorelie's strength of character, and determination to do the right thing, balances things out. I liked it quite a bit.
(personal note: I kept misreading Splendid Academy as Splenda (tm) Academy. Which I thought was rather metaphorically apt.....)