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.
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.
NAACP Image Award winner Due (The Wishing Pool) takes an unflinching look at American racism in this masterful work of historical horror. When Robert Stephens Sr., a Black man, is accused of trying to rape a white woman in 1950 Gracetown, Fla., there's no chance for justice. He flees to Chicago, leaving his 16-year-old daughter Gloria and 12-year-old son Robert "Robbie" Stephens Jr. behind with promises to be reunited one day. The siblings' plan to keep their heads down is thwarted when a local white boy makes unwanted advances on Gloria and Robbie kicks him in her defense. He's sentenced to six months in an austere, prisonlike reformatory school where dangerous punishments, cruel wardens, and the ghosts of past students abound. As the thinly veiled history of the reformatory's wardens murdering their charges comes to light, Due toggles between Robbie and Gloria's POVs, with Gloria fighting to free her brother and Robbie fighting for his life against wardens and haints alike. Throughout, Due shows off her undeniable skill for characterization and voice, impressively capturing Robbie's youth. This harrowing, supernaturally inflected depiction of racism's unbridled cruelty and the generational trauma it can inflict is sure to stick in readers' minds.