Tananarive Due‘s latest novel, The Reformatory, takes us back to the Jim Crow South and the horrors of the Gracetown School for Boys. The protagonist, Robbie Stephens, Jr., is sentenced to this reformatory for a crime he committed in defense of his sister. This gripping novel not only tells a story of survival but also unravels the tragedy and atrocities committed.
The story of Robbie Stephens, Jr. is a powerful one. The narrative begins with his sentencing to the Gracetown School for Boys. The institution proves to be a dark and dangerous place, where boys are forced to work and suffer physical and emotional abuse. What sets Robbie apart is his ability to see ghosts, which at first provided him with comfort but as he discovers the true nature of the reformatory, this window to the other world becomes a source of terror.
The author deftly weaves the historical context of the Jim Crow South into the narrative. The racial discrimination, segregation, and violence faced by African Americans are palpable throughout the story. But what stands out is the resilience and strength exhibited by the characters, especially Robbie and his sister Gloria. The latter rallies her family and friends to devise a plan to get Robbie out of the reformatory before it’s too late.
As Robbie navigates his way through the reformatory and learns the rules of survival, he befriends Redbone and Blue. The author’s portrayal of their bond and humor amidst the dire circumstances is heartwarming and adds a layer of humanity to the story. However, the darker reality soon surfaces as boys go missing, and Robbie’s gift of seeing ghosts uncovers even more horrifying truths.
The pace of the novel is well-crafted, with each chapter urging us to keep reading. The prose is hauntingly beautiful and evokes a sense of foreboding that stays with the reader. The author has done an excellent job of piecing together the life of a family member never spoken of and bringing his tragedy and those of many others to light.
The Reformatory is a haunting story of survival and tragedy that leaves a lasting impact on us. Tananarive Due has written a remarkable work of historical fiction that not only educates but also engages its readers. The characters are well-drawn, and their struggles and triumphs evoke empathy and admiration. The novel highlights the horrors of the Jim Crow South and the atrocities committed in the name of so-called reform. This novel may be considered the best book from the talented Tananarive Due.