In her debut novel, ESCAPE THEORY, Margaux Froley gives the boarding school novel a West Coast twist in this suspenseful and complex mystery.
Everyone knows that boarding schools are classic settings for young adult novels, from John Knowles's A SEPARATE PEACE to E. Lockhart's THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS. Something about the absence of parents and the intensity of friendships and animosities alike make for particularly rich and often juicy teen reading material. Margaux Froley puts her own spin on this genre, setting her debut novel ESCAPE THEORY not among the oaks and maples of New England but rather at a California boarding school where surfing is just as important of an extracurricular activity as lacrosse or field hockey.
"Froley shows readers a boarding school environment where the use and abuse of prescription drugs is commonplace, where precious little schoolwork seems to get done and where sex and secrets go hand-in-hand."
At the center of Froley's novel is Devon Mackintosh, a junior at Keaton. She's got her sights set on Stanford, and she's been told that one of the best ways to impress the admissions committee is
by becoming one of the school's first "peer counselors," students who are specially trained in confidentiality and counseling issues and who should be resources for their fellow students.
Little does Devon know, though, just how harrowing this job will be --- or how useful. At the very start of the year, Jason Hutchinson (known as Hutch), a fellow student, committed suicide by overdosing on Oxycontin. Something about Hutch's suicide doesn't sit well with Devon, and she begins to use her sessions with Hutch's friends --- some of whom are more distraught than others --- to investigate what might have really happened to Hutch.
Froley intersperses scenes from the present day --- many of which take place in Devon's peer counseling sessions --- with Devon's recollection of an unforgettable night she spent with Hutch when both of them were freshmen. The reader comes to understand why Hutch meant so much to so many people (especially Devon) and to join Devon in wanting to understand what happened to cause his death.
Froley shows readers a boarding school environment where the use and abuse of prescription drugs is commonplace, where precious little schoolwork seems to get done and where sex and secrets go hand-in-hand. The social structure she introduces readers to in ESCAPE THEORY is intricate and complicated --- at times, readers may get lost in all the layers of intrigue and betrayal. But ESCAPE THEORY is just the first part of a projected series, which will focus not only on Devon's ongoing investigation of her classmates (as well as potentially her own history) but also on the history and politics of The Keaton School itself. Readers will be eager to follow Devon's progress, especially if future installments in the Keaton School series are as suspenseful as ESCAPE THEORY.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 18, 2013