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I reviewed the book The School of Life and Death by T. H. Building. This book is set in 1957 at a fictional school for young adults who need to repeat a year of high school to graduate. It is written as a series of flashbacks that tell the story of the corporal punishment (caning) and abuse suffered by a number of students during this school year. It shows in detail how the abuse affects the students physically, mentally and emotionally.
At the end of the book the reader is told that the essays have been written by one of the main characters, Claire, and then gathered together to be published by her best friend Tracy, but this was not really clear to me while reading the book. Most of the essays were from the point of view of different characters; Claire, Tracy, Mark, Aaron, Corey, Mr. Mulder, Mr. Streicher, or Mrs. Clementine, and I didn’t realize until told that they were one person’s flashbacks, dreams, fantasies or reconstructions. However, I didn’t feel that this detracted from the book in any way.
I have to say that I didn’t really enjoy this book, but only because of the content. The book itself was well written, the authors voice was clear and the story was kind of sickeningly mesmerizing. For me it was the kind of book that I hated reading but didn’t really want to put down because I wanted to see how it ended.
I thought the author was extremely clear in exposing the repressed sexual motivations behind caning (corporal punishment) and how it is so harmful to the recipient physically, mentally and emotionally. In most parts of the book I wanted to cry (and I was also horrified and sickened) because I can’t imagine the shame and hurt that these poor young people had to endure at the hands of repressed, sadistic and sociopathic “authority figures”, who claimed to beat them for their own good when what was really going on was a denied and repressed sexual attraction and undeniable urge to be all powerful over their victim.
The author deliberately made the characters in this book of legal age, but it horrifies me that corporal punishment over the ages (and still today) has been inflicted on much younger children, the author states “Part of the mind of a severely beaten child is forever broken”, the devastation to young people that this practice has caused is heartbreaking. I felt the author was able to show this in the novel and hope that it in some way this novel can help people see the need to abolish this practice and get the victims- and the perpetrators- the help that they need to repair their damaged psyche’s.
I am torn about what rating to give this book. I thought it was a well written book and the topic was very relevant, but it was also very graphic and distasteful because the subject matter is sexual in nature. I think many people may be offended or turned off because of the taboo’s that still exist in our society, however, if this novel can do anything to help bring people’s awareness to the atrocities being committed and help in any way to stop them it will have done what I think the author intended it to do. I gave this book a rating of 3 out of 4 stars.
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