The Reformatory

Gallery/Saga. Oct. 2023. 576p. ISBN 9781982188344. $28.99. HORROR
In 1950 Jim Crow–era Florida, kids Gloria Stephens and Robbie Stephens Jr. are left behind after their mother dies from cancer and their activist father is forced to flee northward. For Gloria and Robbie, like for other Black residents of the county, life is hard, but Gloria and Robbie’s presence in particular makes white people think of their “troublemaker” father. When Robbie kicks a white boy to protect his older sister, he is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory with a notorious history. Told in the alternating perspectives of Gloria and Robbie, Due’s novel follows the action as Gloria works to set Robbie free. The history of the horror that imprisons Robbie has a long tail—but the ghosts who live on the reformatory’s grounds are unwilling to wait for justice any longer. The writing here is spectacular; the pacing, engrossing; the setting, heartbreaking but honest; and the characters are given a nuance and depth rarely seen.
VERDICT American Book Award winner Due (The Wishing Pool and Other Stories) has written a masterpiece of fiction whose fear actively surrounds its readers, while the novel speaks to all situations where injustice occurs and compels its audience to act. For fans of The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, The Trees by Percival Everett, and The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.
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