The Hawthorne School
reviewed by Carolyn Scott
Claudia Vera is a single mother at the end of her tether with her four-year-old son Henry. He’s a difficult child given to tantrums, fits of anger and going out of his way to obey even the simplest instructions. At preschool he is disruptive and refuses to take part in activities and learn.
Just as she is despairing what to do about Henry at yet one more meeting with his teacher, she hears about an exclusive school on the edge of town with alternative teaching methods. The Hawthorne school sounds it might be just the sort of place Henry would enjoy.
When Claudia and Vera first visit the Hawthorne School, they can’t believe how beautiful it is; a majestic gothic castle surrounded by fields and woodland. The school was originally founded by Julia Hawthorne in the 1960s and after her death six years ago taken over by her son Gabriel who set about expanding the school with new campuses across the country and overseas. The school is based on a mix of educational philosophies melded from Montessori, Waldorf and Scandinavian forest schools, with the children spending most of their days outdoors learning from nature, music and art. Claudia sees groups of children working together calmly and serenely after a morning exploring outdoors and knows immediately that this is what she wants for Henry.
When Claudia is told by the Director, Zelma Huxley that Henry is just the sort of child they are looking for and that she can pay reduced fees if she agrees to do some volunteer work at the school, it all sounds too good to be true. Furthermore, she is told the school provides all the children’s and volunteer workers’ food, growing their own organic fruit and vegetables and preparing vegan meals and healthy smoothies incorporating a mix of herbs all gathered from the school gardens.
This is a creepy, atmospheric, slow building suspense novel, with the gothic school itself looming over everything. Claudia is very gullible and trusting and wants so much to have made the right choice for Henry that she refuses to see that there is so much wrong with the school, the teachers and the other volunteers, who she is told mostly work at night. However, I felt the novel could have done more to use such a brilliant premise to build the suspense and make it more frightening rather than focusing on the clueless Claudia and her thoughts and feelings. Certainly, the ending could have built to a much more dramatic climax instead of being rushed and surprisingly anticlimactic. Nevertheless, this is definitely a fun read about a sinister and creepy school.
With thanks to Crooked Lane Books and Netgalley for a copy to read. Publication expected December 7, 2021.