In the hills of the Berkshires, there's a private school, the Santanglo Academy, which is a boarding school for disturbed teenagers. This is a place where fairly wealthy parents can deposit their troubled youth into the caring and trusted hands of Dr. David Santangelo, who promises that he can save them from themselves.
Into this hallowed realm comes Maddie Dare, who truly does want to help these kids. But soon she discovers that all is not what it seems to be. Not only do most of the staff reside on site under Santangelo's close and tyrannical supervision, but there are almost two separate schools, the actual academy where learning theoretically takes place, and "the farm", where the students are sent to work as punishment when they misbehave.
When a couple of students die under suspicious circumstances, Maddie realizes that there are forces afoot that are more twisted and dangerous than she could possibly imagine, and there's no telling who is willing to kill to keep their secrets.
While The Crazy School (Grand Central Publishing, $23.99) by Cornelia Read seems like a murder mystery on the surface, I'm going to let you in on a little secret.
The school really existed. Exactly the way Cornelia depicts it here.
I know, because she taught there, and because I've met a couple of the students who attended. It was called the DeSisto School
And there's so much more that's wrong about the school that is truly terrifying.
You see, it was a requirement of the school that everyone undergo therapy, not just the troubled kids, but the faculty as well. And you tell your therapist everything, right? You have to be totally honest because that's the only way therapy works, and you can tell your therapist because he or she is bound by law not to tell anyone else, ever.
Except at the fictional Santangelo Academy, as well as the real DeSisto School, teachers and students alike were encouraged to turn on each other in public, and unbeknownst to many of them, the therapy sessions were not private, but all the therapeutic sessions were reported to the headmaster for his own personal edification and use.
So neither a teacher nor a student could ever report what was going on, because he had all this information to use against them. Besides, who's going to believe a bunch of crazy kids anyway?
The Crazy School is a powerful book in many ways. Cornelia Read is an exceptional writer, and you'll be caught up in the story, never fear, but what gives it that truly frightening edge is the knowledge that it's all too true, despite the fictional murders that occur. Knowing that the Desisto School is closed is really scant relief.
Now, I know for a fact that Cornelia never meant it as a metaphor, but once you've read it, you can't help but be drawn to certain parallels. A power-mad leader who believes he's a god and can do whatever he wants with impunity, including listening in on private conversations and using that knowledge to imprison and destroy people who have no recourse against his actions? Hmmm, why does that sound hauntingly familiar?
So you should read this book. It's amazing and fast-paced and darkly humorous and will have you thinking for quite some time.
Besides, Cornelia is a friend of SeattleTammy and myself!
~~Special Report from PLL
SeattleTammy would like to point you at what she considers the most important thing Cornelia has written here. Thank you Penitent Liberal Lesbian for this book report. (pssst! It's PLL's birthday this weekend, so go say "Happy Birthday!")
democommie™™™™™©®ç åü is still holed up with his squirrels and is being no damned help whatsoever on OUR move!
Crazy School is available at Jackson Street Books and fine Independent Bookstores everywhere!