The Schoolhouse

Title:The Schoolhouse

Writer: Sophie Ward

Publishing House: Corsair

Date of Publication: May 5th 2022

Rating: 5 stars

‘’The university library was housed in an unimposing corner of North London, halfway up the Holloway Road. A small campus occupied the grounds of a former landfill site and seagulls still circled overhead, drawn by the scent of waste. When Isobel walked back from lunch the shadows of the birds followed her in the winter sunlight.’’

December 1990. A teenage girl disappears in the days leading up to Christmas. Detective Sergeant Carter finds a connection between this case and a terrible incident that took place in 1975, in the face of Isabel, a young woman who tries to escape the past. What seems an almost routine case of a missing child becomes a race against time in which fear, revenge and retribution pull the strings.

Following her exceptional Love and Other Thought Experiments, Sophie Ward creates a story that will haunt you long after you have turned the last page, with its superb atmosphere, the strong characters and the depth of its profound, relatable themes. The Schoolhouse is a place of ‘’alternative’’ education, associating itself with freedom and independence and initiative. But even the safest nests can become a breeding place for predators, and even the finest school can prove incapable of protecting the most vulnerable of its students.

Within the context of education, we see how lack of communication and understanding leads to isolation and fear. We witness the subtle, yet hurtful ways in which the one who is deemed as the Other is ostracised by a society that feels insecure without the desirable uniformity. We experience its fervent wish for the past to remain hidden, devoted to the absurd motto ‘’We don’t talk about it, therefore it does not exist and it never happened.’’ We understand the impact of a macho community that cannot accept a female police officer and views teenage girls as nothing more than easy prey. 

In beautiful language communicating the thoughts and interactions of characters that ‘’feel’’ as real as our own selves, Sophie Ward creates a moving, haunting novel about trauma, the tentacles of the past and the bravery of the human soul. There is darkness and injustice. But there is light and hope and courage. 

An exceptional work, one of the finest novels of the year.

‘’Clouds drooped over the campus square. A few students leaned against benches, eating chips and smoking. A solitary Christmas star in gold tinsel shimmered from a lamp post. Isobel walked across the icy concrete, feeling the cold spread through the soles of her shoes up into her toes, and letting her breath condense in the wool under her chin. She went back to the library as the last streetlight flickered on. The children were gone.’’

Many thanks to Corsair for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.