A reformist teacher. A dangerous student clique. A powerful novel about secrets and redemption set in the shadows of McCarthy-era America.
Rosemary Chivers is haunted by the choices she made as a teenager—and by those made for her by a controlling mother. Now, in the Cold War era of conformity and suspicion, Rosemary is a modern new teacher at a school for troubled girls, where she challenges the narrow curriculum meant to tame restless young minds. She also keeps a devastating secret. She knows one of the students is the child she gave up. But which one?
Ignoring warnings, Rosemary forms an impenetrable bond with the three girls who are the right age: shrewd runaway Maisie, alcohol-indulging Sandra, and overly flirtatious Jean. But these are no ordinary girls, and what begins as an effort to bring closure to her own rebellious youth soon spirals dangerously out of control.
Rosemary is prepared to do anything to find her daughter. What she isn’t prepared for are the deadly consequences that come with discovery—or just how wicked wayward girls can be.
A Dangerous Education (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
There was something about this book that made me breeze through it in two sittings. It’s part mystery, part psychological suspense, part thriller, part dark academia. Told in dual timelines, Rosemary is seen as both a 17-year old rebellious teenager in the 1930’s, running away from home and falling in love with an 18-year old socialist, and as a 34-year old woman in McCarthy-era Seattle, teaching at a reform school for girls much like she was 17 years prior. Her life choices when she was 17 are coming back to haunt her in her present day, which makes for the suspense.
Rosemary, despite living through some serious situations, doesn’t seem to have grown up emotionally. She makes many naive and questionable choices throughout the book that are so frustrating to read, you just want to reach into the book and slap some sense into her. But I guess that’s the sign of good writing! It’s easy to get emotionally involved in Rosemary’s story.
Rosemary is a progressive feminist and is hiding it from her new employer, who wants her to teach home economics to reform school girls everything from baking brownies to how to make do after an atomic bomb attack. She’s meant to teach the girls about life with outdated texts, and when sex education comes up, to teach abstinence until marriage and no other information about being sexually active. Rosemary bristles under these restrictions.
It turns out Rosemary’s mother got her the job at the school because one of the girls there is her daughter, given up for adoption against her will 17 years prior. Before Rosemary can ask her mother more about it, her mother dies. Rosemary must figure out which girl is hers, while not revealing her identity to her daughter. And throughout the book, that gets harder and harder to do as she gets to know these three very manipulative young ladies.
There’s so much emotion and tension oozing off the pages, like I said, I devoured this book. I have to give props to the author for taking a chance on her ending of the book, and I appreciate the author’s note, which mentions that many of the things in the book were based upon real events.
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