Released today is The Reformatory by Tananarive Due and released by Titan


A gloriously creepy Deep South horror story based on the infamous Dozier School for boys, perfect for fans of The Only Good Indians and Nothing But Blackened Teeth.

Jim Crow Florida, 1950.

Twelve-year-old Robert Stephens Jr., who for a trivial scuffle with a white boy is sent to The Gracetown School for Boys. But the segregated reformatory is a chamber of horrors, haunted by the boys that have died there.

In order to survive the school governor and his Funhouse, Robert must enlist the help of the school’s ghosts – only they have their own motivations…

Set in Jim Crow era Florida, The Reformatory by Tananarive Due tells the haunting tale of Robert Stephens Jr, a twelve-year-old boy who is sent to the fictional Gracetown School for Boys, based on the infamous Dozier School for Boys.

Sent to the school for kicking a wealthy landowner’s son after he makes unwanted advances towards his older sister, Gloria. 
Following the death of his mother, Robert Stephens Jr lives with his sister Gloria whilst his father, framed for the rape of a local white woman has relocated to a secret address in Chicago. Deemed as a threat to society, mainly due to the fact that his father, Robert Stephens Sr was a black man who dared to attempt to unionize the local workers in the town, Robert Jr is sentenced to six months at the school. Immediately upon entering Gracetown School, the horrors of the establishment are thrust to the fore, both supernatural and real. It seems that Robert Jr is susceptible to the presence of ghosts and he sees and feels the spirits of the dead. 

However, it is not the dead that provide the worst horrors, it is the living. Thrust into a brutal regime, Robert meets the Superintendent of the school, Warden Haddock. The sociopath that revels in the torture of the boys sent there. 

Haddock is a truly odious individual who not only delights in the whipping and torturing of the boys, but also has much darker insidious side to him that is an open secret.

Navigating the ever-present dangers that are put in his way at each moment, Robert soon finds himself as a pawn between the two opposing factions, Haddock and the ghosts (called Haints in the book, a southern American phrase referring to the supernatural).

Throughout the book the ghosts that Robert sees are terrifying as they have the injuries that they sided with, such as knives in their back, parts of limbs missing and are able to alter their forms so that they are parodies of people. 

Meanwhile, in the outside, Gloria is experiencing the terror of the system as she attempts to secure the release of her brother from the school. She attempts to obtain the services of a lawyer from a visiting NAACP lawyer in the hope that his sentence can be rescinded. 

In addition to this, Gloria comes up against the Klan as they are intent on catching her father. 
Throughout the book, the terror is palpable, but generally not from the supernatural elements (although it does have its moments). One of the worst scenes in the book occurs when Gloria and her elderly Godmother, Ms Lottie travels to a neighbouring town and they come up against the local police. Throughout the whole scene, you read with bated breath until the outcome of the ordeal. 

The Reformatory is a moving and tough read as the horror of the situation becomes more and more desperate. However, it is the situation and the system that are the true horrors of the book. 

As an introduction to Tananarive Due’s work, this is excellent place to start as it showcases her writing admirably, highlighting the treatment of southern African Americans and how the system continually marginalised and brutalised large sections of society and continues to do so today. In addition to this, it shows her capabilities as a horror writer to evoke terror in the writing. At times this reminded me of both Stephen King and Susan Hill in her ability to provoke atmospheric writing. 




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