Review – The Crazy School by Cornelia Read

Madeline Dare has at last escaped rust-belt Syracuse, New York, for the lush Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. After her husband’s job offer falls through, Maddie signs on as a teacher at the Santangelo Academy, a boarding school for disturbed teenagers.
Behind the academy’s ornate gates, she discovers a disorienting world in which students and teachers alike must submit to the founder’s bizarre therapeutic regimen. But when Maddie questions his methods she’s appalled to find her fellow teachers more likely to turn on one another than stand up for themselves, much less protect the students in their care. A chilling event confirms Maddie’s worst suspicions, leading her to suspect an even darker secret, one that lies at the academy’s very heart. Cut off from the outside world, Maddie must join forces with a small band of the school’s most violently rebellious students – kids who, despite their troubled grip on reality, may well prove to be her only chance of survival.

How often do you find yourself finishing a book, only to realize once you’re done that it was actually a follow-up to a previous novel? I’ve done this too many times to count. The Crazy School is Cornelia Read’s second chapter in the Madeline Dare collection (Of which she is now working on number 3 to my immense joy.) But, even after finding out this information afterwards, nothing was lost by reading out of order. There are no gaping holes or misunderstood mentions, in fact, the mystery of Maddie “Bunny” Dare’s past is only intensified. By this I mean to say that, as a reader, you know something happened in her past, and it’s a whopper of a big thing, but it doesn’t detract from the time, place and circumstance that Maddie finds herself in at this point. Now ask yourself, how often do you come across an author that creates a character focused series, that is satisfying no matter what order you read the series in? Personally I’ve found this skill in story-telling rare.

Let’s take a look at that last sentence again, I referred to Cornelia Read’s ‘story-telling skill.’ According to the dictionary, a storyteller is one whom writes or tells stories or one whom relates anecdotes. Now I’m going to say that Cornelia Read is all of the above because not only has she written an amazing mystery story, she has also based this story on her own personal experiences. On her website she has a page of links, where you can find lots of interviews and information. The big revelation for me was the interview in which the author stated that both of her books (Field Of Darkness & Crazy School) were ninety-something percent autobiographical. Wow! Maddie makes my list of top ten characters, but what I’m dying to know is how much of Maddie is actually Cornelia. Seriously if the author is even half of what Maddie is, Cornelia freaking rocks :)

So why am I so crazy about Maddie, well for starters it’s her voice. Not her voice-voice of course, but her way with words. I like how she talks like a real person, using phrases that come up quite often in everyday conversations, for example she calls her students ‘Dude’, replies sarcastically to things with ‘ya think’, and makes traditional phrases her own, like this one that I particularly enjoyed ‘crappe diem.’ It’s not only these small tokens of reality though, it’s the way that the story seems so much more powerful just from the easy-going narrative. Conversations are made more personal:

”There’s Gerald,” she whispered.
”I can’t talk to him anyway,” I said, “on the advice of my attorney.”
“’My attorney.’” She chuckled a little. “Well, la-dee-dah.”
”Oh please,” I snapped, “who died and made you Annie Hall?”

Maddie’s colorful inner dialogue concerning other character’s makes them all the more realistic:

When not stricken with TMJ, Mindy chewed gum with her mouth open. She was from Ohio. Every inch of furniture throughout her campus apartment was jammed with stuffed animals, all of them pink. She’d brought the canopy bed her parents gave her as a sweet-sixteen present with her all the way from Dayton. We couldn’t stand each other, but I hated her more. She was so shallow she couldn’t even dislike people properly. I despised her receding chin and her stupid fluffy perm and her stupid fluffy pink sweaters and her fucking giggle. It made me happy that she was fat, since I’d dropped twenty pounds doing time at Santangelo, having been too fucked up to eat much of anything. I pushed the little piles of lettuce and cottage cheese around my plate just to annoy her.

She’s the type of character that you either want to be best friends with or be like yourself. But you don’t want to get on her bad side, as she’d likely tear you to shreds. The best part about this character is that no matter how hard-assed, cool or sarcastic she may seem, there is compassion and honest goodness beneath this rough exterior. To the people that know her well, Maddie is the most caring person in the world. While the other teachers at Santangelo appear to flaunt how good they are for helping troubled teens, Madeline Dare ignores how the outside world may judge her and concentrates all her efforts on the kids themselves. They need help and she tries to give it to them any way she can, even if it means changing up the curriculum or bending some rules. She is the defender of the crazy kids, because instead of categorizing them and working around their problems, she moves past these things and relates to them as people. And the wonderful thing about this is that the kids know they have problems, and respect Maddie more because she doesn’t allow these issues to define them in her eyes. And those kids, they are amazing. Mooney, Fay, Sitzman and Weisner, despite all the shit they’ve done, been through, or are facing, you can’t help but see the remarkable people they could be.

Normally I try to keep a nice balance in my reviews of character/story/writing, but letting my thoughts run on The Crazy School, it’s obvious that the people involved in the story have made the most impact on me as a reader. There is so much more I could say about, but I’ll leave it at this. This book is terrific, an enjoyable read, written with style and saying so much about people and their behaviour. I highly recommend this, and Cornelia Read’s previous novel A Field Of Darkness.  

About The Author
Cornelia Read grew up in New York, California, and Hawaii. She is a reformed debutante who currently lives in Berkeley with her husband and twin daughters. To learn more about the author, you can visit her website at and her group blog with authors Jim Born, Paul Levine, Patty Smiley and Jacqueline Winspear at The Crazy School is her second novel featuring Madeline Dare, the first is titled A Field Of Darkness.

Title: The Crazy School
Author: Cornelia Read
Book Genre: Mystery / Thriller Fiction
Book Type: Hardcover 336 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: January 2008

Other Works
Invisible Boy (2009)
The Crazy School (2008)
A Field of Darkness (2006) 
Hungry Enough (2007)*

*From A Hell of a Woman anthology

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.


naida said...

sounds very good, great review!
I hadnt heard about this author before. Its always great when you find a character that you like so much.

bermudaonion said...

The book sounds good and the cover is wonderfully creepy too.

Ladytink_534 said...

Sounds SO cool! Oh I always do a little research (mainly thanks to about the book I want to read to make sure it's not part of a series or have a previous related book. It drives me NUTS to read things out of order!

avisannschild said...

It's funny because I just came across this author on Naked Authors grog (which I got to because of an interview I read with Jacqueline Winspear on another blog) and this book sounded really interesting. Then I got together with my local blogging buddies and Cindy (from Cindy's Love of Books) gave me a copy of this book. I'm super thrilled to hear it's that good and that it can be read on its own, without reading the first one! I might just have to bump it up to the top of my TBR pile! Thanks for the fantastic review!

Dar said...

Great review. I looked this book up the other day when you mentioned it (I'm sure it was you I first heard about it from) and I've added it to the must read list. It sure does sound like a great series and I love the cover on this one.

Amy said...

Wow, this looks really good and I love the cover.

chartroose said...

I think I'll put this (and the first one) on the top of my TBR's too. Books about school are some of my fav's, i.e. Harry Potter, etc.

Cornelia Read said...

Thank you so, so much for your kind words. You totally just made me "cry for happy." (especially since I'm trying to beat the third draft of book three [INVISIBLE BOY] into submission.

And Madeline is WAY cooler than I am, in real life. Maybe because I've had twenty years to think of all the comebacks I *should* have said when I was working at that actual school.

Thanks again!

avisannschild said...

Whoo-hoo, the author commented on your review. How exciting!

Serena said...

I've had the same problem recently...reading the second book in a series without realizing it. LOL but it's fun to go back to the first and discover the beginning of the series.

Zibilee said...

I am glad you liked this one. I have heard some pretty good things about it, but have not read it yet. Although you say it does well as a stand-alone, I think I will try the books in order, since I am kind of compulsive like that. Thanks for the excellent review!

Darla D said...

This sounds like fun, but of course I'd have to read the first one first, too! Thanks for the heads-up about that. I enjoyed your review.

Hagenmary said...

I just did the SAME thing! Finished "The Crazy School" -absolutely LOVED it-- so I've gotta read "A Field of Darkness". Then realized I just read book #2 in the series! Oh well, I'm sure I'll enjoy it just as much. A great, GREAT new author and character. Made my day, Dude.

Anonymous said...

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