When Moira Dreyfuss’s parents announce that they’re sending her to an all-girls boarding school deep in the Maine woods, Moira isn’t fooled. She knows her parents are punishing her; she’s been too much trouble since her best friend, Nathan, died―and for a while before that. At the Castle School, isolated from the rest of the world, Moira will be expected to pour her heart out to the odd headmaster, Dr. Prince. But she isn’t interested in getting over Nathan’s death or befriending her fellow students.
On her first night there, Moira hears distant music. On her second, she discovers the lock on her window is broken. On her third, she and her roommate venture outside…and learn that they’re not so isolated after all. There’s another, very different, Castle School nearby―this one filled with boys whose parents sent them away, too.
Moira is convinced that the Castle Schools and the doctors who run them are hiding something. But exploring the schools will force Moira to confront her overwhelming grief―and the real reasons her parents sent her away.
Let’s get this out of the way first – while the synopsis gives a mystery vibe, it is not one. It uses the tropes of mystery and gives you something different than expected, and I’m not even mad about it, even though I generally hate synopses being misleading! So, this book takes the trope of boarding schools and rehab institutions being full of secrets of having some conspiracy and then turning it around. The book centers on Moira, who is being sent as a punishment to the Castle School because after her friend’s death, she has retreated into herself. When she first arrives, the school’s coldness and dreary surrounding play into the setting of there being a conspiracy about the students admitted to the school, that they are test subjects in an experiment or something. She herself seeks out the mystery of the music coming across the woods, where another Castle school is situated, only this one is for boys. The book maintains its shroud of intrigue as Moira slowly drives the plot into a genre transition – from a story about mystery to a story about recovering from grief.
Moira’s journey of grief slowly starts to take centerstage as the elements of the mystery fade away, making it seamless. The book goes into the need for better methods to help children deal with issues, and also emphasizes giving people the space and time needed to recover. One thing I need to warn y’all about is that the book might make you cry – a lot. Moira, who had closed herself off, starts re-evaluating the relationships in her life, when given a chance to stop and think about it, instead of the general insistence upon teens to think about their future prospects. I won’t deny that I am still skeptical that ALL the parents in this book sent their kids with the same ideology in mind, though, or that it is always for their own good when their parents decide things for them.
Overall, it is a good contemporary read, though it would be wise to know going in that it is Not a Mystery as advertised.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Sourcebooks Fire, via Edelweiss.
Releases on March 2, 2021