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The Crazy School – a literary take on mystery and mental illness

The Crazy School, by Cornelia Read is a novel and a mystery centering on the world inside a residential school for troubled teens, one that comes with very troubled staff as well. It isn’t often that my previous careers get pulled into my book reviews. However, my previous job working as a teacher in a residential school for children with emotional and behavioral disorders gave me a touchstone for the world in The Crazy School. There are many differences between The Crazy School and where I was teaching on many levels – it’s private rather than state-funded, it has teenagers rather than youngsters, and the discipline is very different. However, having experienced the world of teaching children with these problems helped pull me into the novel quickly.

Our narrator in The Crazy School is Madeline, a woman who was pulled to the Berkshires (aka Western Massachusetts) for her husband’s work, but then the job disappeared. She starts teaching at the Santangelo Academy – a private school that is used as a “last chance” for teens with emotional disorders and wealthy parents. Madeline is disturbed by the rigid discipline as well as the required therapy for teachers in addition to therapy for students. She is a bit of an outsider – the most recent hire as well as the only one who lives off-campus, in an apartment with her husband.

When you teach troubled children, you often end up with attachments to certain kids, and want to protect them. Madeline has a few students she really likes, and when one of them puts his hand through a window, she ends up wanting to protect him, but stifled by the rigid structure of the school. Madeline begins to question the structure as well as the founder, and finds herself deeply involved in the inner workings of the school and the mysteries that surround it.

In The Crazy School, Cornelia Read has created a large cast of characters, all of whom have life breathed into them. Madeline has so many different sides, she truly feels real. There are mysterious airs around many of the teachers, and given the diagnoses and medications given to the students, do we know what they are really thinking? Madeline has made a few friends she thinks are like-minded within the cadre of teachers, but are they all friends, or are some of them spying on them as they find hiding places to drink caffeine and smoke a cigarette? As we delve into the depths of the mysteries surrounding Santangelo Academy, we are investigating a horrible event involving the students as well as the backgrounds of the staff. There are twists and turns in this novel that left me completely surprised – but as I looked back, I could see the subtle hints that lead to the answers Madeline has found.

I found The Crazy School to be a truly unique book. I really enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it. It’s a mystery, and yet it is not a traditional mystery. It’s a novel about a boarding school, but it’s a very unusual boarding school. The characters are well-developed, and yet they still hide secrets from us. If you don’t usually read mysteries, but are attracted to Literary fiction or Women’s Fiction, you should definitely try The Crazy School!

This novel was received from the publisher for review.

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