Sisters in Sanity
Although this book is technically fiction, it is based on real events and places. I imagine the reader, you, have probably seen at least one of the talk shows where kids who had behavior problems were sent to a sort of boot camp that was supposed to help straighten out the kids.
But what if the boot camp isn't the wonder of help it makes itself out to be? What if the people who work there are more into punishment and don't have a clue how to really help young people? This story is about such a camp.
Brit Hemphill is a 16-year-old girl who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and who is still a virgin. Granted, she dyes her hair and plays in a punk-rock band, but that's about as wild as she gets.
Her father, for reasons the book reveals near the end, sends her to Red Rock Academy, a boarding school that is more boot camp than boarding school. I have read a lot about World War II, and the Prisoner-of-War camps that existed, and Red Rock Academy is basically like those.
The camp has ultra-strict rules. There are six levels of development with various privileges linked to each, but the place is really a scam, bilking rich parents and “graduating” kids whose parents can't keep paying. The techniques that the staff uses are basically brain-washing techniques, including the use of a small hut outside for those who need special punishment.
The girls who are there have real problems; some of them have eating disorders, some suffer depression, etc. Some are sent there because their parents consider their behavior a disorder, as is one girl who is either bi or lesbian; she hasn't decided which yet.
Brit and a small group of girls form a sisterhood to help each other survive the camp. Things come to a head when one of them is out on a forced hike and collapses. The school tries to claim she had become anorexic, but she actually had been overweight and really suffered from dehydration.
The girls decide it's time to take the camp down. They gather hard evidence, research the history of those who work there (finding some incredibly interesting information), but then have to get an adult outside the camp to take an active interest. They pin their hopes on a famous writer/reporter who is now semi-retired, but he seems to not want anything to do with them.
The rest of the book is about how they continue to manage to survive, and what finally happens when the light of Truth is shown on Red Rock Academy.
This is a difficult book to read; not in the complexity of the words, but in the emotional strength of the writing. Still, it's very well done and should be read by adults and young adults alike.
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