The Crazy School
by Cornelia Read
January 10th 2008 by Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover, 326 pages
044658259X (isbn13: 9780446582599)
rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Halfway to Christmas, Forchetti stated the obvious: 'You can’t teach for shit.'”
In 1989, Madeline Dare moved from Syracuse, New York to the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. She takes a job as a history teacher at the Santangelo Academy, a boarding school for disturbed teenagers. David Santangelo is a questionable headmaster and founder, who wears opera capes and hot pink helicopter uniforms and subjects his students and staff to bizarre therapeutic regimes. For example, when no student confesses to kicking a dent in the Xerox machine, all the students must sit in a silent circle in the gymnasium, with teachers in the middle and bathroom breaks every two hours. As expected in such a strange environment, tragedy befalls some of the students. When police are called in and violence escalates, Madeline finds herself as the only advocate for the students against the maniacal machinations of those directing the Academy.
The Crazy School reads like a female-J.D. Salinger-turned-mystery writer. Cornelia Read, who was herself a New England debutante, precisely encapsulates the ethos of the late 1980s. From the prevalence of cigarettes to Madeline’s personal memories of the 70s, Read flawlessly plunges her reader into the bleak setting of the Academy.
I can imagine that certain conservatives might want to censor this book. Read is particularly fond of capturing teenage boy dialogue, littering the novel with the words “fuck,” “shit,” “asshole,” and the like. She addresses the issue of providing contraception to teens, and overall makes Madeline a challenge-authority-by-using-your-brain kind of gal.
Since my husband is a social worker/therapist whose primary focus is working with troubled teenagers in residential homes, I have more familiarity with the parts of The Crazy School that are realistic and those details, like Madeline’s having recently inherited a Porsche, which stretch the limits of fiction.