The Castle School (for Troubled Girls) by Alyssa Sheinmel is a contemporary novel about grief. Moira’s best friend died, and her parents have sent her to The Castle School to deal. Moira is determined to find out the school’s secrets instead of dealing with her own.
“Whatever oriented you before you arrived clearly hasn’t been working. Maybe you should try being disoriented for a change.”
Moira’s best friend Nathan has died of cancer. She is grieving, and in her grief, she is making reckless choices. She’s not eating, she’s leaving home late at night, and the last straw? She gets a tattoo. Her parents have her sent off to The Castle School, an all-girls institution for troubled girls. It is quite literally set in a castle, and, interestingly enough, the man who runs it is named Dr. Prince. Moira thinks she is sent there because her mother simply doesn’t like her and because of the tattoo. She doesn’t realize that it’s because they genuinely care and are concerned for her well being.
“The universe punished me when it killed my best friend and left me all alone.”
Moira realizes the lock on her window is broken, and she and her roommate leave the building. They discover another castle that is warmer, brighter, and full of boys. This is Castle South, and it feels like another world. Moira is convinced this is some kind of experiment, but you’ll see that it is not if you read my frustrations in the next paragraph. It is not mysterious, it is not thrilling, and it is not a conspiracy. It is just another school run by Dr. Prince’s ex-wife. That’s it. This isn’t a spoiler; this is marketing the book correctly.
“Because, my dear, that’s what you’re left with now. You have a life to live, even if Nathan does not.”
I would like to preface this review with: I feel misled. This book is marketed as though it is a mystery, and the cover backs that up. It’s listed on Goodreads with “Mystery” as a subgenre. I am not a contemporary reader; I have stated this repeatedly and would not have requested this book had I known it is in no way a mystery novel. Marketing a book is incredibly important, and for people like me who know what kind of genres they enjoy, this is frustrating. It also causes people who don’t want contemporary to read this book and end up with not great reviews because, well, it’s not what they expected. With that out of the way, this book was just okay.
“Have you ever actually cried, Moira, since your friend died?”
Moira is, at times, a frustrating character. She is so deeply involved in her own grief that she doesn’t recognize how she affects others around her. However, the way each of the girl’s mental illnesses is written feels well researched and well-considered. As someone who suffered/suffers from some of these MI’s, you could tell that the author had worked hard to show these things without stigmatizing them. I felt that was well done and worth noting. Moira actually has character growth, albeit a bit suddenly. It felt as though she worked through her grief rather quickly to conveniently wrap up the book, which was a bit frustrating.
“Trying to resist what has happened leads to more suffering.”
As often happens with books like these, the romance in it was completely unnecessary. The entire plot around the son didn’t need to exist, and, it felt lazy. This book could have simply been about Moira’s mental health, but we had to throw in a romance for extra spice. While it did play a role in her recovering from the loss of her friend, it wasn’t needed and in my opinion, we don’t often encourage romance while sorting ourselves out mentally. Moira was just learning how to have friends, I don’t think navigating a romantic relationship was necessary.
All in all, this was a 3.5 out of 5 stars for me.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.