Fiction Stephen Dobyns Boy in the Water

ISBN 13: 9780140285208

Boy in the Water

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9780140285208: Boy in the Water

A masterful psychological thriller, from the author of The Church of Dead Girls.

Another bucolic fall in northern New Hampshire, and the semester is under way at Bishop's Hill Academy. But this year the start of school has been less than tranquil. The new headmaster, Jim Hawthorne, has liberal ideas that the staff find far from welcome. He's also determined to do something about the long "tradition" of permanent loans to faculty of shovels, saws, even cars, from the school's supplies. Eloquent as he is on the subject of honor, rumor has it he's only taken this job to escape his past. And Hawthorne isn't the only uneasy newcomer. There's Jessica, a former stripper at fifteen, and Frank LeBrun, a replacement cook who's a bit too quick with a dirty joke. All three have secrets to conceal, memories to suppress.

Serene on the surface, the ivy-clad, tree-lined campus gives few clues to the school's history of special privileges, petty corruptions, and hidden allegiances. But as autumn advances, the affable smiles and pretenses of virtue wear thin. And as winter closes in, students, teachers, and staff get an education in savagery and murder. With his customary uncanny awareness of the intricacies of human nature, the acclaimed author of The Church of Dead Girls once again probes the daily life of an ordinary community to reveal the depths of good and evil.

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Review:

Although not as complex or as haunting as his 1997 novel Church of Dead Girls, Stephen Dobyns has produced a first-rate psychological thriller with Boy in the Water.

Bishop's Hill Academy in rural New Hampshire is a school in crisis. Once a highly regarded preparatory school for the rich and elite, it is now a dumping ground for troubled teens. The teachers are unqualified, unenthusiastic, and spend more time hitting the students than educating them. A new headmaster, Jim Hawthorne, enters the chaotic scene, but is immediately outcast from the tight-knit faculty. Hawthorne is obsessed with the idea of turning the school around--and we soon find out why. His family died in a fire purportedly set by a disturbed teenager back in San Diego. Mentally and physically scarred, Hawthorne sees Bishop's Hill as an opportunity to get back to "physical reality," and save some adolescent psyches. But it is his own mental state that is soon put to the test as he becomes the nucleus of a hate campaign and is forced to relive the terrible memories of the fire.

It seems that everyone in the school has a secret to hide--from the cook Frank LeBrun who enjoys placing sharp tacks in his recipes to Chip Campbell, a history teacher who has taken one too many liberties with the school's funds.

Dobyns paints a foreboding landscape of dilapidated buildings and neglected children--a place where a 15-year-old girl plots to kill her father, a place where teachers abuse students, a place where a young boy is found dead in a swimming pool. As a snowstorm cuts off the isolated community, the exiled headmaster is forced into a final showdown with the school's omnipotent evil.

Boy in the Water is an entertaining but ultimately disturbing read. --Naomi Gesinger

About the Author:

Stephen Dobyns is a poet, literary critic, and the author of the "Saratoga" mystery series. His most recent novel, The Church of Dead Girls is available from Owl Books (0-8050-5104-X). He lives near Boston with his family.

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