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3.6 out of 5 stars
The Crazy School (A Madeline Dare Novel)
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
I was fortunate enough to attend The DeSisto School in West Stockbridge, MA, next to Tanglewood, in the late 1970s and early 1980s before it truly became The Crazy School. Cornelia Read's detailed account of how it was for a teacher was not privy to most students there, and thus fascinating to learn about. Accurate down to the minutiae, Read satisfies us all--alums as well as educators--curious to reminisce with out-loud laughter, and probably some tears as well. The lingo, the rituals, and the worship have been craftily woven into another Dare-ing mystery. Every chapter's end leads to unexpected winding turns, much like Route 183 itself. And Read's hipster voice lends a breezy coolness and vivid color--crisp as the air in the Fall and Winter of the Berkshire Mountains.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Cornelia Read's "The Crazy School" opens in 1989. Twenty-six year old Madeline Dare is a history teacher at the Santangelo Academy in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. The academy's pupils are disturbed teenagers, many of whom have been released from psychiatric hospitals and are currently taking medication to keep them on an even keel. Although Madeline cares about her students, the stress of the job is getting to her. The kids curse and throw things, make suggestive remarks, and show little respect for themselves, let alone authority figures. Nor does Madeline enjoy the twice weekly sessions that every teacher must attend under the direction of Sookie, a therapist who is well-meaning but incredibly cloying. In addition, since cigarettes and caffeine are banned on campus, Madeline sneaks around to grab some smokes and guzzle caffeinated beverages with her pal and fellow teacher, Lulu. Although Madeline is sorely tempted to quit, her husband is out of work, and they need her salary to keep them afloat.

On the plus side, Madeline's class size is tiny. Using language that teenagers understand, she tries to convey her knowledge about such topics as World War II, the United Nations, the McCarthy era, and the "flower power" of the sixties (which she experienced firsthand as the child of hippies). What passes for calm in the school is suddenly shattered when a student violently pushes his hand through a window and shortly thereafter confides to Madeline that his girlfriend is pregnant. Things go from bad to worse when the two are found dead after drinking punch spiked with poison. Could they have taken their own lives in a fit of despair? Madeline has reason to believe that this is a case of homicide, not suicide, and she turns sleuth in order to bring the killer to justice. Her mission becomes even more urgent when the police supsect that she may have had a hand in the tragedy.

The first half of the novel is funny and sharp, with bright and intelligent dialogue that is both sardonic and witty. The author scores points satirizing phonies who make money peddling bogus therapies to gullible clients. The colorful characters include: Dhumavati, the sympathetic dean of students; Mindy, an obnoxious teacher whose deep loathing of Madeline is fully reciprocated; Sookie, the aforementioned therapist, who is like "a golden retriever--big-pawed, blonde, and brimming with indiscriminate affection"; Santangelo, an egotistical bully who runs his school with an iron hand and uses arbitrary rules to keep everyone in line; and Wiesner, a young man who can be charming when he isn't blowing something up or threatening a teacher with a carving knife.

"The Crazy School" loses steam when it becomes a conventional murder mystery culminating in an implausible and silly denouement laced with cartoonish violence. Startling and long-winded revelations reveal the rot at the school's core. When the author keeps things light and breezy, her book is entertaining and refreshing. However, the dour and improbable conclusion is jarring and detracts from the story's considerable entertainment value.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I attended the Desisto School, which the book is based on. The school was such a twisted evil place that is extremely difficult to fully explain and for people that did not attend the school to understand and believe. I got almost half way through the book, but the book brought back too much anger and emotion in me that I had to stop reading it. This book, although not a true story, truely gives you a picture of what this sick school was all about. Consequently, I commend the author for her true portrayal of the Desisto School, and even more commendable are her efforts in informing the public of these evil schools that continue to exist and thrive to this day.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Situated in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts, Santangelo Academy is the last recourse for disturbed and volatile teens with behavioral, drug and mental problems who've been left there by their wealthy and desperate parents. Teachers would leave this place in a hurry except that Madeline Dare, its history teacher, needs the money after her husband lost his job. Surrounded by psychologically damaged youths and the weirdest bunch of teachers in fiction, Madeline barely makes it through her days, buoyed only by occasionally sneaking a ciggy and coffee, both of which are banned at Santangelo. Everyone, from teachers to parents to kids, attend mandatory psych sessions where the staff therapist spouts the latest and greatest in 1980s psychobabble--"the shrink-sponsored murder of language"--in the name of bonding.

Heading this crazy school is David Santangelo, a self-styled guru who's a charlatan with a questionable history and a fondness for even more questionable rules. Despite her misgivings over the bogus `cures' the kids are subjected to, Madeline is committed to her students; but when two of them are found dead, she finds herself framed for their murder and fighting for her own life.

Santangelo Academy is modeled on the real-life DeSisto School which was embroiled in controversies and legal problems until its closing in 1984. The author was a teacher at DeSisto so most of Madeline's experiences here must be based on her own. As fiction, it's both interesting and alarming to read of such a school being accredited despite its arbitrary and questionable therapies that endangered its students' well-being.

"The Crazy School" has a very interesting and entertaining first half that's filled with caustic humor and insight. As the main character, Madeline is likable and sympathetic, and her acerbic take on Santangelo and her peers is quite amusing. The dialogues, too, are smart.

The murder mystery finally makes an appearance halfway through the story, but it failed in sustaining my interest. As a mystery, it's weak and too contrived, relying on a tie-in to the Jim Jones Jonestown tragedy of 1978, and altogether haphazardly executed. By itself, the mystery has very little substance. It's overreaching and loses credibility with an ending that's better suited to a comic book. If the author had limited the story to just the school and its inhabitants, and skipped the weak-kneed mystery and its absurd ending, it would have been a far better read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
In 1989 in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, twenty-six year old Madeline Dare obtains a position as a history teacher at Santangelo Academy "therapeutic boarding school". The former Long Island debutante and married Syracuse fluff reporter knows she will have problems adjusting to her new environs, but is unaware how much.

Headmaster David Santangelo runs the academy with an iron fist allowing no room for mistakes; offenders are sent to "the farm" for punishment. Madeline's distressed student Mooney LeChance informs her that he believes his girlfriend, Fay Perry is pregnant. Although she knows she is expected to report this to Mr. Santangelo, Madeline agrees to keep the couple's revelation secret for now especially as the teen duo is serving time at the Farm. However, Mooney and Fay die after drinking party punch. The police arrest Dare as she allegedly prepared the poisoned drink.

THE CRAZY SCHOOL is an interesting amateur sleuth tale that reads like two novels in one. The first part of the book provides insight into those at the Santangelo Academy as if the story line is an exposé character study of the negative elements of a private school. Somewhere towards the middle of the novel, the plot veers into a murder mystery. Although distinct, the parts ultimately blend together as Dare dares to prove her innocence while exposing A FIELD OF DARKNESS that engulfs the school.

Harriet Klausner
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 16, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is the second book to feature Cornelia Read's protagonist Madeline Dare, but it doesn't appear necessary to read the first although fans say it's worthwhile to do so, since Read's debut, `A Field of Darkness', was critically well-received and a finalist for the prestigious Edgar Award. In this second book Madeline has taken a job teaching history at the very unconventional Santangelo Academy, a boot camp / prison masquerading as an elite boarding school for problem teenagers.

From the start, Madeline is disturbed by the methods used by the rather frightening and repellent headmaster, David Santangelo, and when two students are poisoned just hours before planning to run away and a very dangerous secret is revealed, Madeline is distrustful of everyone around her, including - no, make that especially - her fellow faculty members. It doesn't help that Madeline, too, is poisoned, and to add insult to injury, is apparently being framed for the deaths.

I don't know if it was bad timing and this story just didn't match my mood at the moment, but I was a little glad to finish it and put it aside. That surprised me because I'd really been looking forward to reading it. It was a traditional cozy in the sense that the sleuth is not a detective and it's not a police procedural, but it had a bit more serious an undertone than a lot of cozies on the shelves these days, reading a little darker than the usual fare. That was fine, but I just didn't care much for Madeline's character. Described as a `reformed debutante', I can't help but assume she's largely based on the author since that's how Cornelia Read describes herself on the bookjacket, and Madeline is just a little too jaded and snappy for my tastes. That might be good, though, if you enjoy that sort of thing. I just don't. I also didn't feel the other characters were fleshed out well at all. There's Lulu, Dhumavati, Sookie and Gerald among others, and I honestly couldn't tell one from the other as I read. There are a few moments when the author gets on a bit of a political soapbox, as well, and that's a turnoff but at least it's not too overwhelming. Throw in a bit of Jim Jones / Jonestown lore and its connection to the story and there's at least an original and interesting plot twist.

Overall, a decent enough mystery but not really my cup of tea.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
After being introduced to Madeline Dare in Cornelia Read's first novel, "A Field of Darkness," readers are again treated to an encounter with this original protagonist. Now 26 years old, she has left upstate New York for the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and, when her husband's job offer falls through, begins teaching at the Santangelo Academy, a boarding school for disturbed teenagers. The school motto is "Free to Be," and it has a rather unusual way of doing things: "Everyone at the school had to do Santangelo-approved therapy--not just the kids but the teachers, the administrators, and the parents of every student. We did ours on campus. Santangelo had a traveling crew of shrinks who met with parents around the country. If they missed a session, they weren't allowed contact with their kid by phone or mail for a month. I couldn't believe that was legal, but they were desperate enough to suck it up without complaint."

Touted as a "healing community," it begins to look more like "The Snake Pit," and Madeline suspects that the Academy's director is "just the latest charlatan to wrap himself in their snake-oily mantle of overpriced navel-gazing hooey." When two students die in what appears to be a double suicide, Madeline, who had sincerely cared about these kids, both especially vulnerable, is determined to find out the truth. At this point the novel, which had been proceeding at an unhurried pace, rapidly kicks into high gear

This is another compelling novel by this author, the plot alternately funny and suspenseful, and the world she has created is a bit like passing the scene of an accident but finding onself unable to look away. [I might add that I loved her use of a line from an old and classic Danny Kaye movie.] The book is a very enjoyable read, and is recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
My thoughts...For me, reading The Crazy School was a bit like riding a roller coaster. It has its ups and its downs. Let me start with what I liked about the book. The plot of this story contains a huge mystery to be solved. This mystery is written in a way that you have no idea who can be trusted, who is lying, or manipulating everyone in the story. I second-guessed everyone. The characters were interesting. It is my understanding that the school portrayed is based on an actual institution. In today's society it seems to be a stretch that places like this exist, however the book takes place in 1989. While shocking at times, I found it believable, scary but believable.

The Crazy School has quite a bit of shock value. I was shocked by the way the students and the teachers conversed. I was shocked by the language and innuendos. Initially (mainly due to the cover), I thought this was a YA story. It's not. I stumbled through parts of the story because I wasn't sure if certain parts were an attempt at crude humor or a display of the twisted reality of this school.

Overall, I liked the book. Cornelia Read has a unique writing style that won't appeal to everyone, but would entertain a wide range of readers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I'm no literary critic but I know what I like -- and I loved both of Cornelia Read's books. I've hesitated writing a review because I don't think I can do them justice. I am a voracious reader, but I have to like the characters quickly or I won't give the story a chance. I want Madeline Dare and her pal Ellis (from the first book) to be my pals. Yeah the stories themselves are fun, but it's the sense of place and the characters that had me hooked in the first few pages. I'm hoping we'll see more of Ellis in the next book -- which I will buy in hardcover as soon as it is released.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The ominous Santangelo Academy for disturbed youth is set in the Berkshires. This idyllic backdrop stands out in stark contrast to the school and the majority of the characters. Set in 1989, the story reflects the terminology of the times.

Enter Madeline Dare, whom readers met in Read's earlier book, A FIELD OF DARKNESS. A toilet mouthed Camel-smoking ex-deb, she and her husband Dean leave the Rust Belt/Snow Belt of Syracuse, N.Y. for the Berkshires. Readers know from the previous book that Madeline has committed homicide in self-defense. She arrives at the school gates with her own set of baggage.

The cast of characters are bizarre, to say the least. There is Dhumavati, the school's dean of students. There are the students, all of whom present volatile and dangerous behavior. Classes are small, 4 or less per period. Tim, Gerald and Pete make up the male staff. Mindy, a fat, unappealling whinebag with a sense of entitlement is another female teacher on the staff at Santangelo Academy. Rude and stuffed with a sense of entitlement and a plethora of inane drivel, Mindy is the staff laughingstock because of her canopy bed and her menagerie of pink, stuffed animals whom she can't live without. Another reviewer on the US boards describes this ship of fools as "the weirdest bunch of teachers in fiction," which is a startlingly apt description.

The therapy sessions which all parents and staff are required to attend sound like psychological dog-piling sessions. Sookie, a rather weird psychiatrist insists Madeline has been sexually abused due to her good posture. Nothing will disabuse her of that notion. The other teachers are verbally abused and humilated to the point of tears and ridicule. In one memorable session, I just loved it when Madeline socked it to that stupid Mindy. I loved it when she called that whinebag on her annoying behavior and sniping, petty meanness. To say I could not abide Mindy and felt she got what she had coming would be a vast understatement.

Then there is Lulu, Madeline's friend. Another potty-mouthed smoker, the two sneak coffee and Camels off grounds as they don't reside on campus. Since the campus has a ban on smoking and caffeine, the two indulge their vices in their respective apartments.

David Santangelo is a dark character. He's a demagogic prophet and a mountebank with a questionable background. His rules and treatment of the staff are ludicrous and cruel. One wonders how he has stayed in business as long as he has. Kind of makes you think of Bettelheim, who defrauded the public for decades.

Matters come to a head when two students are found dead. The school has a seclusion ward called "the Farm," which consists of a bunkhouse set far back from the main building. Inmates on the Farm are expected to chop wood and set out rat poison and tend the garden. Dhumavati's special pleasure comes from maintaining that garden which is a memorial shrine to the daughter she lost in 1978.

Questions naturally abound, such as who killed these kids who were young lovers? The girl, Fay was pregnant, a fact which very few people even knew. Her bracelet was found in Madeline's pocket after Madeline was found drugged and delusional on the Farm grounds.

More questions crop up, such as the charge of sexual abuse of students. One teacher is named as abusing a boy named Parker (probably named after author Robert Parker, who saw Michael DeSisto at a party given by a notorious pedophile).

Who REALLY killed those kids? And were the allegations of sexual abuse founded? Did they decide to die together, in a suicide pact? Did other inmates kill them? Somebody on the staff? Could it have been stupid, whinebag Mindy? Dhumavati, who lost a child? One of the male staffpersons? Santangelo? The mysteries surrounding the deaths of these students lead Madeline deeper into the history of the school and lead to a very bizarre, albeit interesting conclusion.

Since this book was based on the very real therapeutic boarding school, the DeSisto School which closed in 2004, one cannot help but wonder if some of the atrocities committed at Santangelo actually occurred at DeSisto.

The story was just okay, but I had trouble with the parallels and connections to the 1978 Jonestown Murders in Guyana. Although I was not overly fond of Madeline, she was sharp and funny and I loved the way she called a spade a spade. I also loved the way she ripped into that unappealing, obnoxious whinebag Mindy. The ending was rather implausible, but c'est la vie. Although it was not my favorite, it did provide literary entertainment.
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