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Reviews of The Reformatory by Tananarive Due

The Reformatory

A Novel

by Tananarive Due

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due X
The Reformatory by Tananarive Due
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  • Published:
    Oct 2023, 576 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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About this Book

Book Summary

A gripping, page-turning novel set in Jim Crow Florida that follows Robert Stephens Jr. as he's sent to a segregated reform school that is a chamber of terrors where he sees the horrors of racism and injustice, for the living, and the dead.

Gracetown, Florida

June 1950

Twelve-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr., is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory, for kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. So begins Robbie's journey further into the terrors of the Jim Crow South and the very real horror of the school they call The Reformatory.

Robbie has a talent for seeing ghosts, or haints. But what was once a comfort to him after the loss of his mother has become a window to the truth of what happens at the reformatory. Boys forced to work to remediate their so-called crimes have gone missing, but the haints Robbie sees hint at worse things. Through his friends Redbone and Blue, Robbie is learning not just the rules but how to survive. Meanwhile, Gloria is rallying every family member and connection in Florida to find a way to get Robbie out before it's too late.

The Reformatory is a haunting work of historical fiction written as only American Book Award–winning author Tananarive Due could, by piecing together the life of the relative her family never spoke of and bringing his tragedy and those of so many others at the infamous Dozier School for Boys to the light in this riveting novel.

Coming soon.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. The Reformatory starts out with Robbie Stephens Jr. as simply a young boy who has just lost his mother and is dealing with the absence of his father, who was forced to flee town for his safety. How does the lack of those parental figures impact him? Does grief play a role in helping Robbie, hurting him, or both? In what ways?
  2. Reflect on the relationships Robbie has while serving time in the reformatory school. How do they shape and motivate him? What does his friendship with Blue and Redbone provide him? What does his dynamic with the warden provide him?
  3. Discuss the need for characters to put on appearances in order to survive. For example, Gloria's character is sometimes accused of "talking white" for speaking properly. Meanwhile, ...
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Reviews

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Gracetown, Florida in 1950 is deep in the Jim Crow South and home to the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory school with a dark reputation. After kicking a white teenager while defending his older sister Gloria, Robert Stephens Jr., a Black 12-year-old, is sent to Gracetown, where he is thrown into a world of ghosts, brutal punishments and a superintendent with dark motives and darker secrets. Desperate to save her brother, Gloria pushes back against the blatant racism of her town to fight for Robert's freedom and her own safety. Based on true events at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, The Reformatory is a story of the horrors of the Jim Crow South and a pair of siblings who would walk through hell to get back to one another...continued

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(Reviewed by Jordan Lynch).

Media Reviews

Book Riot
Due knocks it out of the park every damn time.

CrimeReads
One of the greatest living horror writers.... Sure to be as powerful as it is haunting.

Vulture
Her fiction is always powerful, and The Reformatory promises to be her most moving — and horrifying — tale yet.

Booklist (starred review)
With fully realized characters and well-placed twists, Due ratchets up the tension until the final, extraordinary showdown.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A vividly realized page-turner, which is at once an ingenious ghost story, a white-knuckle adventure, and an illuminating if infuriating look back at a shameful period in American jurisprudence.

Library Journal (starred review)
The writing here is spectacular; the pacing, engrossing; the setting, heartbreaking but honest; and the characters are given a nuance and depth rarely seen… A masterpiece of fiction.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This harrowing, supernaturally inflected depiction of racism's unbridled cruelty and the generational trauma it can inflict is sure to stick in readers' minds.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Bringing Them Home: The Use of DNA to Identify Remains at the Dozier School for Boys

Tananarive Due and her son Jason during the excavation at the Dozier School in 2013The Reformatory, the newest novel by celebrated author Tananarive Due, tells the horrific story of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Once the country's largest reform school, Dozier supposedly intended to rehabilitate its students into productive citizens, but instead the boys were terrorized and tortured, and some were even killed (see Beyond the Book for The Nickel Boys). Although deaths at the school were documented between 1914 and 1973, burials at the school's cemetery, known as Boot Hill, were only recorded from 1914 to 1952 and indicate 31 burials on the site during that time. Statements from former inmates, however, suggested that many more boys had died at the school, and in 2011, the state of Florida authorized Dr. ...

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