The Reformatory
Tananarive Due
S&S/Saga Press (October 31, 2023)
Reviewed by Carson Buckingham

From page one, The Reformatory pulled me in and didn’t let go until I reluctantly turned the last page. This book was a real eye-opener for me, as I knew very little about the Jim Crow South prior to reading it. It is categorized as a horror novel, and there is a supernatural element to it, but the real horror emanates from those in charge at The Gracetown School for Boys, where atrocities run rampant under the guise of so-called reform. A black child, Robbie Stephens, age 12, is sent there for kicking a white boy in the knee to get him to keep his hands off Gloria, his sister.

The judge considered his six-month sentence “lenient,” but would they let him out after that time, or would Warden Haddock extend his sentence…or kill him…after he served his sentence? The School is nothing more than a prison for boys, who are subjected to intense physical abuse (some died because of it) and psychological torture. In short, they are living in Hell, and if they try to run, the tracking dogs have been trained to kill them, because there are secrets here that Haddock doesn’t want revealed to the outside world. Secrets that he foolishly keeps on a shelf and in a locked desk drawer.

Robbie gets a reprieve of sorts when Haddock’s assistant discovers that Robbie has a gift—he can see ghosts…or ‘haints,’ as they are called here. He is often visited by them. They are the boys that were murdered at the school.

Haddock puts him to work as his personal ‘ghost trapper,’ but though it makes Robbie’s life at the School a whole lot easier, he is torn about turning these boys back to Haddock a second time. The reader pulls for Robbie throughout the book because his good character never falters in spite of all the forces lining up against him. This is one strong 12-year-old.

The story alternates between exposing readers to the horrors of the School and the ray of hope provided by Robbie’s family, especially his sister Gloria, who never stops trying to free him.

The Reformatory is not just a book, it is an immersive experience and an education that will remain with the reader for a long time. The writing is superb.

I will now be reading everything this author has written because this book is a true masterpiece.

5 out of 5 stars.

About Carson Buckingham

Professionally, Carson Buckingham has made her way in life doing all manner of things, most of which involve arson. She is currently employed as a freelance writer on a work release program. In her spare time, she studies forensics, in hopes of applying her new knowledge to eluding the authorities more effectively the next time. She is originally from Connecticut, but now resides in Kentucky—and Connecticut is glad to be rid of her.