Madeline Dare is a teacher at the Santangelo Academy, a boarding school for troubled teens. The best part of her job is the students. While she may not like all of them, she truly cares for their well-being in a way that few adults in their lives have. The worst part of her job is adhering to the odd rules of the academy’s founder, Santangelo. All rules set for the school must be adhered to by all people associated with the school, staff, faculty, and students alike. That means that Madeline is in withdraw from both cigarettes and caffeine, as both of these items are banned on campus, and she must also submit to mandatory counselling. Madeline’s patience with the kooky Santangelo rules wanes, especially when some of the rules are found to be abusive and others out-right absurd, and her belief that the Santangelo Academy may not in fact the best thing for her troubled students grows. Her concerns are validated when two of her students turn up dead. Originally both deaths are thought to be suicide but Madeline knows different. She knows in heart that her students were murdered but proving it becomes a challenge as evidence turns up putting Madeline at the top of the suspect list. Madeline must clear her name, figure out who killed her students, and save everyone from the creepy clutches of the Santangelo Academy.
What I liked: Madeline. She is extremely sarcastic and, at times, as troubled as her own students. She relates really well with her students and I love how supportive she is while maintaining appropriate boundaries. I also admire her resolve and determination. She could have just left Santangelo but she refused to leave those kids without trying to do something to make their situation better. I also enjoyed the darkness of the story. The humor was dark, the atmosphere was dark, the plot was dark. This is a diversion from many of the happy-go-lucky mysteries (which I love so I’m not dissing them) where the main characters as well as the mysteries are fun, funny, and everything is taken very lightly. Crazy School is nothing like that; its main character is deeply flawed and wounded but still cannot sit by and not try to right the injustices she sees around her. I did have a lot of unanswered questions at the end of the book, not about this story but about what had happened to Madeline in her past. Turns out Crazy School is the second Madeline Dare novel, the first being A Field of Darkness (which was nominated for an Edgar Award). I am excited to read A Field of Darkness to see if I can get my questions answered. Despite being insanely curious about Madeline’s past, I loved that the author didn’t give much information from the first book away so now I can read it without feeling like I already know everything. My curiosity aside, Crazy School does work well as a stand-alone but after you’ve read it I bet you’ll want to read the first one too.
My Drawbacks: I wasn’t quite smart enough for this novel. I didn’t get all of the historical references or the humor. I enjoy history but am by no means a historical buff, and this was recent history which I am even worse at than the older stuff. The story was set in the late 1980s, when I was barely in school, and I don’t remember much about what was culturally significant from that time period. There were also quite a few references to events that took place in the late sixties and seventies. Still bad with those time periods; the only thing that I really know about that era is that Vietnam happened and it wasn’t pretty. The humor was of the worldly sort which usually goes over my head. I am more good at school than actually smart–does that make sense?–so worldly, informed jokes go over my head because I am neither worldly nor well-informed just educated. Even though there were parts of the novel where I felt left out of an inside joke, I still really enjoyed the story and it certainly isn’t the author’s fault that I am not smart enough :). So all you smart people, check out The Crazy School because it is so much more than your average mystery!
Read-a-like: The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman. It’s been awhile since I have read this but it has similar themes. Jane Hudson returns to teach Latin at the boarding school she attended when she was a teenager. The book alternates between the present and the past, when Jane was a student, as history begins to repeat itself. The school is known for mysterious deaths involving the lake on the property and Jane must figure out what is going on before the lake claims any more victims.
To see my almost identical review on my teen lit page, click here.