The thing I love most about writing is the thing I love most about being a reader: Being transported to another time and place, meeting new people and becoming engaged in their world. A movie might do that for an hour or two, but a book can do that for a week, or only a few minutes if you’ve a busy day ahead.
My office is stacked with books eager to be read. There are books on hope and books on Supreme Court cases, books on DNA, books on Conjure people and Mountain people. There are books by Flannery O’ Connor and books by Elizabeth Catte. There’s books on former Olympians, and a book by the deceased Barry Lopez. There are poetry books as well. Some of these books I’ve dipped into, others, I have lingered over.
But of all those books, the one book that I’ve been absorbed in these past couple of days is a book by two women who met as young girls at a Central Florida boarding school.
Wayward Girls (Red Adept Publishing) by Penny Koepsel and Claire Matturro follows the drama of three girls – Wanda Ann, Jude and Camille – who meet at a Florida boarding school for troubled teens. Readers are informed from the get-go that although this is a work of fiction, the authors were inspired by the true life horrors of Artesia Hall, a Texas Wilderness School for girls, and Florida’s Dozier School for Boys.
Shipping troubled teens off for somebody else to deal with is fairly common among those who can afford it, or those who land a scholarship. My mother shipped my brother off to a boarding school at age 14, in his case, a military one. Perhaps that’s why Wayward Girls captured my attention. I spent weekends in my youth traveling back and forth between Georgia and Alabama visiting my brother at his school. He learned a lot of things there, not necessarily all good things. Mama had threatened to send me off to boarding school in Virginia. Looking back on it now, I almost wish she had. It would have done me good to see a world outside the one I was living in at the time.
So it was through that lens that I came to Wayward Girls, with a haphazard familiarity of the ways of boarding schools and the kids who attend them. There is a certain creepiness that sets the story the minute Camille Prescott arrives from Tallahassee. Not the kind of creepiness one finds in Harry Potter – no ghosts or goblins or flying brooms at Talbot’s Boarding School for Girls. No, the dangers at Talbot all come in human form. One has a sense of it from Camille’s first encounter with the stern house mistress, Mrs. Dalfour, who instructs Camille to carry her luggage upstairs:
“I have a really heavy suitcase, plus -”
“Self-sufficiency is a worthy trait.” With that Mrs. Dalfour walked away and approached a tall, skinny girl with long red hair who looked just as miserable as Camille felt. Mrs. Dalfour checked something on her clipboard and eyed the girl’s purple skirt dragging on the ground. She sighed. “You must be Judith Coleridge.”
“Jude.” She glared at Mrs. Dalfour. “Don’t ever call me Judith.”
It’s the authors mention of the purple skirt dragging the ground that captures the zeitgeist of the time. That along with the Plymouth Station Wagon (No vans for this era), the Virginia Slims, and the stashes of pot, handfuls of Valium, and packets of LSD hidden under the grates of a heater no longer working. The authors stayed true to the time and place, never missing a detail that would add credence to the truths embedded in their fiction.
She might be from Panama City Beach, but Wanda Ann is nobody’s good little Southern Baptist girl. She is what my mama would have called “a hot mess.” She’s in the school on scholarship, and boundaries clearly are not her thing with her.
Jude is a recovering Jesus Freak with a penchant for pot. An artist, she prefers to be left alone with her drawings, thoughts of Jesus, and whatever drugs are within her reach. Her parents yanked her out of the House of Noah – a commune for the praying sort – and carted her off to boarding school, where the shiny brochure promised parents that they would get a lady in return for the delinquent they entrusted to Talbot.
Camille is the most refined of the three girls. She’s smart, well-read, and is already planning her future as a writer. The only reason she’s at Talbot is because she has a step-father and a pre-occupied mother who long to be shed of her. The thing that keeps Camille from running off is her desire to get into Notre Dame, good Catholic that she is. She’s been shipped off to Talbot under the pretense that she’s sexually active.
Yet, it is Camille who is the flag-bearer for the entire trio. When she encounters Dr. Head, a shrink her mom sent her to, Camille suspects that far more is going on with Dr. Head than anyone else realizes. When Dr. Head takes steps to make Camille think she is losing her mind, Camille has to wrangle with the devil himself.
While the story goes to some dark places (it is a school for troubled teens, after all), readers can’t help but get engaged in the evolving friendships formed at Talbot, and the secrets that bonded these three girls for life. Wayward Girls will leave readers asking: Who are the friends in your life who will help you hide the body?
If it’s a book recommendation from a friend that prompts you to buy a book, consider this a recommendation from a friend. Mystery readers will especially enjoy it. I read the book in two sittings and one of which kept me up reading past midnight.
Currently the book is only available in digital format but paperback is coming. You can find the various ways to order by clicking here.
About the authors:
Claire Hamner Matturro has been a newspaper reporter, a lawyer, and taught at Florida State University College of Law and as a visiting professor of legal writing at the University of Oregon School of Law. But her love of storytelling trumped the legal world, and Claire turned to writing fiction. Check out her many award-winning books at any of your local independent bookstore.