Book Review — The Hawthorne School: A Novel by Sylvie Perry

I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book from Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books. This has not impacted my rating and this review is voluntary.

  • Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction
  • Published by: Crooked Lane Books
  • Publish date: December 7th, 2021
  • Number of pages: 304 pages
  • Author’s website:
  • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

The Hawthorne School is a twisty psychological suspense about the lengths one mother will go for her child, inspired by present-day obsession with cults and true crime.

Claudia Morgan is overwhelmed. She’s a single parent trying the best that she can, but her four-year-old son, Henry, is a handful–for her and for his preschool. When Claudia hears about a school with an atypical teaching style near her Chicagoland home, she has to visit. The Hawthorne School is beautiful and has everything she dreams of for Henry: time to play outside, music, and art. The head of the school, Zelma, will even let Claudia volunteer to cover the cost of tuition. 

The school is good for Henry: his “behavioral problems” disappear, and he comes home subdued instead of rageful. But there’s something a bit off about the school, its cold halls, and its enigmatic headmistress. When Henry brings home stories of ceremonies in the woods and odd rules, Claudia’s instincts tell her that something isn’t quite right, and she begins to realize she’s caught in a web of manipulations and power. 

via Goodreads

Rating: 3.5/5

A single mother desperate to provide the best education and discipline for her child. A school that seems to be perfect for both her and her child. An opportunity that is hard to refuse. The Hawthorne School manipulates people who are going through hardships by offering them an incredible, private school experience for their children.

Inspired by Scandanavian Nature Schools, Claudia finds herself at her wits end in taking care of her child until she finds a school that seems to have a positive effect on her son, Henry. Dealing with grief of losing her only support system— her mother, Claudia is instantly comforted by the headmistress of the school and the teachers. This school emphasizes being in nature, music, and art, which Claudia loves and so does Henry.

However, little red flags start to pop up. Do the benefits of the school outweigh these flags or is there something more sinister going on?

What ensues is a cult of massive proportions. Is Claudia in too deep?

This novel does a great job at exploring the inner thoughts of someone who joins a cult. Through a host of fascinating characters, the author navigates the complex feelings that cults provide—such as comfort, a sense of belonging, and dependency, how someone finds themselves stuck in one, and the struggle to get out of one. As a reader there are a a few moments where I had to suspend reality with how the school achieves this with how some of the characters influence Claudia and the major “influencer” (I won’t say more to avoid spoilers). But this is a fiction novel, so it’s easy to do this.

Overall, I found the novel intriguing and I read it pretty quickly. Personally, cults can be difficult to read about despite how interesting they are because of the lives that are impacted so I liked reading it in this fictional setting.

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