In a beautiful mansion on the grounds of an upscale California university, there exists a school known as The Academy. The Academy is a refuge for kids who far exceed their district school peers in intelligence. These kids are frustrated, bitter, mocked, and occasionally suicidal. At The Academy, they find themselves among friends, kids who are just like them: prodigies, the brightest of the brightest.
The Academy is also a place with some truly chilling secrets.
I read a John Saul novel last week, and I wasn't impressed. I mentioned in that review that I'd read another of his novels years ago, and that I remember having enjoyed it. This one...holy crap. I couldn't put it down.
The story follows Josh, a super-bright ten year-old who's already skipped two grades, and who is ridiculed by his classmates. One day, his principal gives his mother a pamphlet about The Academy, which sounds ideal for Josh, but way beyond what a single mom's waitress wages could afford. No problem. The Academy works on a sliding scale, and Josh could attend free.
Josh makes friends quickly, including the twins, Adam and Jeff Aldrich, and his fellow ten year-old, Amy.Carlson. One night, Adam sneaks out of The Academy. Early the next morning, he kneels calmly in front of an approaching train, and commits a grisly suicide. Adam's isn't the first suicide among Academy students. Nor, we discover, will it be the last.
But are these suicide victims really dead? And what goes on in a secret chamber, five stories below the school?
That's where "Shadows" turns eerie.
When I was ten, I went to a gifted school as well. It wasn't a boarding school, and there weren't strange goings on, but it was nice to be among people my age who were similar. As far as the details about smart kids getting picked on...well, I didn't get picked on much, because I didn't skip any grades. (Also, I was gifted, but I was also very big)
John Saul weaves this story splendidly. We know something's going on, and we suspect certain characters are sinister, but Saul takes his time unwinding his plot. The school's director--Dr Engersol--exudes menace, but for the book's first half, we only glimpse him from afar, or hear anecdotes about him.
Nothing is what it seems, and people die, and do so in ways that suggest different fates than they befell.
I admit that some of the computer details in "Shadows" were somewhat archaic--it was written 20 years ago, when modems were dial-up and hard-drives were small--but so little of the story depends on these facts, that it doesn't matter.
"Shadows" is a lovely, creepy book, that I thoroughly enjoyed. And I'm reeaallly glad my gifted school wasn't like The Academy. Had it been, you wouldn't be reading this review.