The Hawthorne School
The Hawthorne School is a debut novel listed as being perfect for fans of Riley Sager. Having given a DIK to Ms. Sager’s most recent novel I was naturally anxious to pick up this one. Unfortunately, it did not live up to the hype.
Claudia is a single mother whose young son Henry is beyond challenging. At age four he still has horrific tantrums, won’t cooperate with his teachers and doesn’t get along with the other kids at his facility. Tired of being called in for conferences to deal with all his problems and afraid he is about to be kicked out of school, Claudia takes a tour of a local naturalistic academy called The Hawthorne School. She can’t afford it but finds that they are happy to give her financial aid and so she enrolls Henry at once.
Initially, the school is everything she could have dreamed of. Henry runs around outside playing all day, loves his new whole foods diet and drinks the nutritional supplement called “Little Green” provided by the school with glee. Claudia is assured by the headmistress she is doing a bang up job taking care of Henry, which is the opposite of what his previous preschool had said, and it’s a balm to her wounded soul. Her weekends with Henry are still nightmarish, but they are at least compensated for by the fact that he is so well during the week.
But it isn’t long before Claudia, who has to volunteer at the school in order for Henry to maintain his scholarship, realizes that something isn’t quite right there. When she starts asking questions, bad things start happening. She had hoped The Hawthorne School would be the solution to her problems but it quickly becomes apparent that walking through those doors might just have been the biggest – and last – mistake she will ever make.
This is a poorly constructed mystery which suffers from pacing issues, and while billed as a suspense novel, there is nothing actually tense or thrilling about it. What is happening is pretty evident, and the only real question I had was regarding motive. What was the reason behind everything the people at the school were doing? Unfortunately, the answer to that proved rather mundane.
Adding to the difficulties with the story was Claudia’s ineptness. She alternated between being clueless and making dumb decisions. Beyond the facts that she loved her mother, loved her job as a therapeutic masseuse, and was worn out by Henry, she didn’t seem to have a personality. Claudia does highlight how tough single moms often have it, which I appreciated, but that does not a personality make.
A killer ending would have gone a long way to turning this into a worthwhile read but we don’t get that, and instead, the ending is something of a mess. A character with no motive to do so explains the whole mystery to Claudia. A group of people who had only been on the fringe of the story suddenly saves the day. The mitigating factor in all this – Henry’s behavioral problems – is left unaddressed.
It isn’t a complete mess – the story does have a cohesive plot and the prose is smooth and easy to read. But those things make this rather banal novel tolerable, not good.
I can’t recommend The Hawthorne School. There are many excellent thriller/mystery/suspense novels on the market right now; this just isn’t one of them.
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I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.