The Reformatory by Tananarive Due

Do you ever read the BookPage magazines that are available for free at all three Davenport Public Library locations? As a selector, I always do! Each month, BookPage puts out a magazine as a discovery tool for readers to find their next great book. My latest read was featured on the front cover of the November 2023 issue. The related article was fascinating and pulled me to find the book immediately.

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due honors the ghosts of her family’s painful past. In 2012, Due learned that her mother’s uncle, Robert Stephens, had most likely been buried on the grounds of the Dozier School for Boys, a now infamous reform school in Florida that was the site of monstrous abuse. As a result of this phone call, Due traveled to Florida to witness her great-uncle’s remains being unearthed. She also attended a meeting of Dozer survivors that cemented her desire to write something about the boys at Dozier. Due decided to write a novel, as she felt too removed from the situation to write a piece of non-fiction.

Her determination eventually led to The Reformatory, a horror novel that tells the fictionalized story of twelve-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr. who was sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, the reformatory where horrific abuse took place for decades. Robbie’s crime: kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. When Robbie arrived at the reformatory, his talent for seeing ghosts, also known as haints, quickly became a burden. This gift used to comfort him after he lost his mother, but the ghosts he sees at the reformatory highlight the horrifying truth of what really happens at the school. Boys have been going missing there for years, but the haints he sees keep whispering to him that even worse things are happening to these boys. Robbie turns to other boys to learn how to survive, but his best efforts may not be enough to save them all in the end.

On the outside, Gloria is determined to get Robbie back home as quickly as possible. Her father is rather notorious in the community, so she knows that local officials will be less likely to help her. She rallies her network of friends and family, as well as various other Florida connections to hopefully get Robbie out of the Reformatory before he becomes yet another statistic. While this is a fictionalized account, Due gathered information about her lost relative and the lives of others at the infamous Dozier School for Boys in order to write this twisting novel.

This title is also available in large print and as a Libby eBook.

For more information about the Dozier School for Boys, both nonfiction and fictionalized, check out the following titles:

Burning Down the House: the End of Juvenile Prison by Nell Bernstein

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys by Erin H. Kimmerle

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