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The Reformatory

de Tananarive Due

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3391177,445 (4.29)10
Fiction. Horror. African American Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML:A gripping, page-turning novel set in Jim Crow Florida that follows Robert Stephens Jr. as he's sent to a segregated reform school that is a chamber of terrors where he sees the horrors of racism and injustice, for the living, and the dead.
Gracetown, Florida

June 1950

Twelve-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr., is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory, for kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. So begins Robbie's journey further into the terrors of the Jim Crow South and the very real horror of the school they call The Reformatory.

Robbie has a talent for seeing ghosts, or haints. But what was once a comfort to him after the loss of his mother has become a window to the truth of what happens at the reformatory. Boys forced to work to remediate their so-called crimes have gone missing, but the haints Robbie sees hint at worse things. Through his friends Redbone and Blue, Robbie is learning not just the rules but how to survive. Meanwhile, Gloria is rallying every family member and connection in Florida to find a way to get Robbie out before it's too late.

The Reformatory is a haunting work of historical fiction written as only American Book Awardwinning author Tananarive Due could, by piecing together the life of the relative her family never spoke of and bringing his tragedy and those of so many others at the infamous Dozier School for Boys to the light in this riveting novel.
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The Publisher Says: A gripping, page-turning novel set in Jim Crow Florida that follows Robert Stephens Jr. as he’s sent to a segregated reform school that is a chamber of terrors where he sees the horrors of racism and injustice, for the living, and the dead. Gracetown, Florida

June 1950

Twelve-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr., is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory, for kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. So begins Robbie’s journey further into the terrors of the Jim Crow South and the very real horror of the school they call The Reformatory.

Robbie has a talent for seeing ghosts, or haints. But what was once a comfort to him after the loss of his mother has become a window to the truth of what happens at the reformatory. Boys forced to work to remediate their so-called crimes have gone missing, but the haints Robbie sees hint at worse things. Through his friends Redbone and Blue, Robbie is learning not just the rules but how to survive. Meanwhile, Gloria is rallying every family member and connection in Florida to find a way to get Robbie out before it’s too late.

The Reformatory is a haunting work of historical fiction written as only American Book Award–winning author Tananarive Due could, by piecing together the life of the relative her family never spoke of and bringing his tragedy and those of so many others at the infamous Dozier School for Boys to the light in this riveting novel.

I RECEIVED A DRC FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY. THANK YOU.

My Review: FINALIST
FOR THE 2024 LOCUS AWARD FOR BEST HORROR NOVEL! Award will be given at the ceremony on 22 June 2024.

This is one long story. Long in words, long in facts, long! What it isn't is a dragging mess to read. Ghosts, abused boys, wretched families, the oppressive miasma of Florida's hideous climate...any one of these could've sent me on my way. Instead they all work as a gestalt of Horror, suffering, and terror that left me drained but made me as happy to know this story as an old white man who has never had to fear this kind of abuse and calculated cruelty can be at knowing, from the inside out, what the system I and mine have benefited from did while we were looking anywhere but there.

The single most awful part is that it's fictionalized, not fiction.

I just do not know why anyone would, based on skin color or other cosmetic or cultural factors, engineer a life designed to end quickly and prematurely for innocent victims. Othering, a long-standing weapon of mass destruction, is the cruelest and excuses the cruelest means of hurting those unloved. Why we keep burying our knowledge of its occurrence is perfectly clear after reading this story: Admitting that we tolerated this, knowing on some level that it was happening because these people vanished, but not how, not what horrifying acts occurred in our names, is acutely painful.

So is torture. So is the murder of your loved ones.

Suddenly the pain of reading about it isn't quite so bad, is it.

I hope this book wins the Best Horror Locus Award on the twenty-second of June. Pity it won't be Juneteenth. ( )
  richardderus | May 11, 2024 |
My review of this book can be found on my YouTube Vlog at:

https://youtu.be/juz1nuZOlAg

Enjoy!
  booklover3258 | May 2, 2024 |
Due has long been one of my favorite writers, and this book may be her best yet--at the very least, it is absolutely the best historical horror novel I've ever read. With haunting attention to every detail, and equal parts emotional impact and horror, this story is one that will stay with me for ages to come. Due's characters are more alive than ever--which is saying quite a bit--and even the smallest of them gets such attention as to be either heart-rending or terrifying.

I'd absolutely recommend this to any horror reader, as well as readers interested in historical fiction (haunting or otherwise) that deals with race and/or the mid-twentieth-century South. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Mar 28, 2024 |
Okay, so, let's get this out of the way right up front, okay?

This isn't really much of a horror novel. But this is a horrifying novel.

So, while I find it in the HORROR section of my local bookstore, which is fair, because there's ghosts in it, there's no real horror to be found in the ghosts. Sure, they're a bit creepy, but Due keeps the creep factor tamped WAY down.

They appear. People are shocked. We move past it.

The main thrust of the novel is the utterly horrifying, inhumane, and frankly barbaric treatment of anyone who wasn't white in America 70ish years ago. That's captured in the story of Robert Stephens Jr, sent to the titular reformatory for boys at the age of 12.

It's a sad, and sadly familiar tale that we've seen over and over, but Due does a good job of not-so-gently rubbing our noses in it, as should happen. So, from that aspect, the horror of what we do to each other is perfectly and horribly illustrated. There is a particularly brutal scene involving Robert on the evening of his first day that will stick with me for a long time.

If I have any complaint with the novel, it's that the ending was long in coming, and then felt somewhat rushed and undercooked when it came. It got the job done, but I was expecting maybe a little less chase scene action and a little more revelation, but that's just me.

So, come for the story and the heartbreaking writing. But don't expect a horror novel. Do expect a horrifying one. ( )
  TobinElliott | Mar 17, 2024 |
Possible Triggers: Racial Violence
It's a mix of horror, and historical fiction, that tells a story of inequality, ghosts, abuse, and the power of love between siblings. It also explores racism that exited in Florida; actually, in a lot of the south. in the 1950's... a place where race relations weren't much better than they'd been in 1865, the year that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and gave people of color their freedom. However, it didn't offer equality. It's the summer of 1950 when 12-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr. and his older sister Gloria, meet up with 17-yera old, Lyle McCormack, the son of Red McCormack, the man who basically owns and runs the small town of Gracetown. Lyle gives Gloria a look that most any adult will understand, and then touches her arm and says things he never should have said. Meaning only to defend his sister... Robbie kicks him. Robbie's efforts were well intended but he still gets a bloody ear from Red and a six-month sentence at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory with a dark past in which boys of all races often vanish forever, from the state. It's doesn't come as a big surprise that the school is full of racists and Robbie soon learns that the punishment...no matter how small the offense, is quickly administered, extreme, physical, and very, very common. What is a surprise is that Robbie finds he can see ghosts, all the time and everywhere. They don't harm Robbie and he soon learns how to deal with them. He even believes that he can communicate with his dead mother through the pipes in the showers. Most of the ghosts begin to show signs of their past violence and Robbie starts to unveil the school's dark, and violent history through these apparitions. Gloria does everything in her power to rescue her little brother while also coping with their father's absence and the changing ways in which she has to navigate the world as a black girl that's now seen as a "young black woman" by the people of the town. I was born and grew up in Florida, so I wasn't too surprised that I found that there was a great deal of truth in this haunting story that delves deep into the realities of what is known as the "Jim Crow South". The horrors of schools like the Gracetown School for Boys and the atrocities that went on inside their walls, were unfortunately real. The author manages beautifully to deliver a historical fictional narrative that will hit readers in the face with the ugliness of racism, while she also makes every hero in the story a person of color and excellence...figures like Zora Neale Hurston, Thurgood Marshall, and Louis Armstrong. Yes, there is a great deal of abuse here and discriminating words are constantly used a weapon to insult and belittle folks, but ultimately the narrative comes across with love and perseverance making it memorable. ( )
  Carol420 | Jan 30, 2024 |
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June 1950
Gracetown, Florida

Robert Stephens held his breath and counted to three, hoping to see Mama.

Some mornings his nose tickled with a trace of talcum power or Madam C.J. Walker's Glossine hair grease, and he felt ... something hovering over him, watching him sleep. If he gasped or sat up too quickly, or even wiped the sleep from his eyes, it was gone like a dream. -Chapter 1
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Fiction. Horror. African American Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML:A gripping, page-turning novel set in Jim Crow Florida that follows Robert Stephens Jr. as he's sent to a segregated reform school that is a chamber of terrors where he sees the horrors of racism and injustice, for the living, and the dead.
Gracetown, Florida

June 1950

Twelve-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr., is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory, for kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. So begins Robbie's journey further into the terrors of the Jim Crow South and the very real horror of the school they call The Reformatory.

Robbie has a talent for seeing ghosts, or haints. But what was once a comfort to him after the loss of his mother has become a window to the truth of what happens at the reformatory. Boys forced to work to remediate their so-called crimes have gone missing, but the haints Robbie sees hint at worse things. Through his friends Redbone and Blue, Robbie is learning not just the rules but how to survive. Meanwhile, Gloria is rallying every family member and connection in Florida to find a way to get Robbie out before it's too late.

The Reformatory is a haunting work of historical fiction written as only American Book Awardwinning author Tananarive Due could, by piecing together the life of the relative her family never spoke of and bringing his tragedy and those of so many others at the infamous Dozier School for Boys to the light in this riveting novel.

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