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Class comes to order at ‘Crazy School’

Title: “The Crazy School” Author: Cornelia Read

Not all violence is physical. Subtle violence — a mean look, a cutting remark, vile gossip — can be powerful, eroding the soul, especially when one’s self confidence is low.

At “The Crazy School,” that’s the atmosphere that affects both the disturbed teens who attend the boarding school and the teachers. For the students, Santangelo Academy is the last chance they’ll have before juvenile hall, or worse. For many of the teachers, it’s the only job they could get. Virtually isolated from the nearby town, both students and teachers must adhere to the same bizarre rules and undergo weekly therapy sessions, imposed by the charismatic and sadistic owner.

Like the other teachers, the acerbic Madeline Dare needs the paycheck from this school in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains. Madeline, who has never been respectful about authority, is too smart to succumb to the debasing atmosphere. When a situation takes a dark turn, Madeline tries to find allies, but her colleagues would rather demean each other than stand up for themselves or the students.

With “The Crazy School,” Cornelia Read invigorates the academic mystery by creating an emotional prison that feeds on paranoia and low self-esteem.

Read continues to show the affinity for storytelling and character development that she demonstrated in her unconventional debut “A Field of Darkness.” In her second novel, Read succinctly mixes wit and sarcasm with a social commentary about power and psychological control. “The Crazy School’s” character-rich plot shows how power and control can corrupt an unscrupulous leader and make victims of the weak. Read tempers this heady theme with humor that is well-placed, but never glib.

Madeline makes for an unusual, yet very real, character whose life is a series of contrasts. An ex-debutante, she has a flair for the absurd. Her stable relationship with her loving, blue-collar husband is a rich contrast to the chaos at work.

Readers will learn what a talent Read is with her clever “The Crazy School.”

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