The Hawthorne School

The Hawthorne School by Sylvie Perry was a dark thriller. Claudia can’t handle Henry getting kicked out of another school when the Hawthorne School opens its doors.

All quotes are from an advanced review copy, and may or may not reflect the published edition.

From Goodreads:

For fans of Riley Sager, The Hawthorne School is a twisty psychological suspense about the lengths one mother will go for her child, inspired by present-day obsession with cults and true crime.

Claudia Morgan is overwhelmed.

She’s a single parent trying the best that she can, but her four-year-old son, Henry, is a handful–for her and for his preschool. When Claudia hears about a school with an atypical teaching style near her Chicagoland home, she has to visit. The Hawthorne School is beautiful and has everything she dreams of for Henry: time to play outside, music, and art. The head of the school, Zelma, will even let Claudia volunteer to cover the cost of tuition.

The school is good for Henry:

his “behavioral problems” disappear, and he comes home subdued instead of rageful. But there’s something a bit off about the school, its cold halls, and its enigmatic headmistress. When Henry brings home stories of ceremonies in the woods and odd rules, Claudia’s instincts tell her that something isn’t quite right, and she begins to realize she’s caught in a web of manipulations and power.

The author’s work as a psychotherapist, with a focus on narcissistic manipulation and addictive power dynamics, guides this exploration of a young mother wanting to do the best for her child.

“This is the moment when the Hawthorne School inhales new life.”

Sylvie Perry has done an interesting job of combining the inherent fear for children, and the terrors of cults. In The Hawthorne School, Claudia is willing to do anything for her son. And, when the school shows his improvement, she hones in that maybe traditional education simply didn’t get him. This conceptually was really interesting. Claudia is a bit of a clueless idiot, though, and this can get old very quickly as the school is very clearly not okay. Additionally, Henry didn’t have much personality besides docile or tantrum-throwing. He felt akin to the child in the Babadook. This also got a little old.

“The Hawthorne School breaks people.”

The issue I found with this story was that the tension simply wasn’t there. It made my interest in the book continue to lull, and as Claudia ignored more and more things I was frustrated. As the story progresses and comes to a peak, I felt disconnected from it. There wasn’t much to it, and it wrapped up rather quickly. What could have been a slow burn, highly tense story, fell flat as Claudia made mistake after mistake. The environment was written well, and I was curious about so much, but it just didn’t come through for me.

“Nothing happens here that I don’t know about. That’s how I’m able to make sure that everyone is well taken care of.”

Overall, this story was interesting and a good start for the author. There were some clear ties to common horror movie tropes and the grounds for something truly terrifying. However, if you don’t have a fascination with cults and cult-based thrillers, this may not be the book for you due to the pacing.

“Welcome to the family.”

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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