Tananarive Due is one of the preeminent voices in Black Horror. The above quote is from her. She authored my favorite haunted house book, The Good House, so she is definitely on my auto read list when she puts out a new book. This latest offering did not disappoint. This book is part horror and part historical fiction which takes place in the Jim Crow South. As you might imagine it’s not an easy read, but it’s extremely worth your time and attention.
Robbie Stevens Jr. lives in Gracetown, Florida in 1950 with his sister Gloria. His mother has died and his father is on the run after trumped up charges are brought up against him. His already unhappy situation is made worse when he kicks the son of the town’s largest land owner while defending his sister from his advances. Robbie is sentenced to serve time in the Gracetown School for Boys (the titular Reformatory). These schools are a part of our country’s sad history. Look up the Dozier School for Boys for a real life counterpart. To further complicate matters, Robbie has the ability to see ghosts or “haints.” These haints carry a secret far worse than Robbie can imagine regarding the school’s headmaster. Outside the Reformatory, Gloria is using every resource she can to get Robbie out. Her activities cause the ire of the white men who run Gracetown, and her own life becomes endangered. Both siblings face insurmountable odds so that they can be safe and reunited.
Nearly every chapter of this book is filled with tension. Due makes the precarious nature of being a black child in the Jim Crow South, when just one wrong move can condemn you, palpable. Every move they make comes with the possibility of being caught by someone who has the power of life and death over them. Even whites who may want to help them live in fear of upsetting the status quo and are only willing to do so much. It’s a tense and often upsetting read, but it’s excellent. If you have not ready anything by Tananarive Due, this is a great place to start.