A gripping, page-turning novel set in Jim Crow Florida that follows Robert Stephens Jr. as he’s sent to a segregated reform school that is a chamber of terrors where he sees the horrors of racism and injustice, for the living, and the dead.

Child death, child abuse, sexual violence & child sexual abuse (offpage), violence, death, hate crimes, racism, racial slurs, forced institutionalization, police brutality.

Gracetown, Florida
June 1950

Twelve-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr., is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory, for kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. So begins Robbie’s journey further into the terrors of the Jim Crow South and the very real horror of the school they call The Reformatory.

Robbie has a talent for seeing ghosts, or haints. But what was once a comfort to him after the loss of his mother has become a window to the truth of what happens at the reformatory. Boys forced to work to remediate their so-called crimes have gone missing, but the haints Robbie sees hint at worse things. Through his friends Redbone and Blue, Robbie is learning not just the rules but how to survive. Meanwhile, Gloria is rallying every family member and connection in Florida to find a way to get Robbie out before it’s too late.

The Reformatory is a haunting work of historical fiction written as only American Book Award–winning author Tananarive Due could, by piecing together the life of the relative her family never spoke of and bringing his tragedy and those of so many others at the infamous Dozier School for Boys to the light in this riveting novel.

Don't just take our word for it...

“The writing here is spectacular; the pacing, engrossing; the setting, heartbreaking but honest; and the characters are given a nuance and depth rarely seen… A masterpiece of fiction.”
– Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“With fully realized characters and well-placed twists, Due ratchets up the tension until the final, extraordinary showdown.”

“A vividly realized page-turner, which is at once an ingenious ghost story, a white-knuckle adventure, and an illuminating if infuriating look back at a shameful period in American jurisprudence.”
– Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Taste the very first page

June 1950
Gracetown, Florida

Robert Stephens held his breath and counted to three, hoping to see Mama.

Some mornings his nose tickled with a trace of talcum powder or Madam C. J. Walker’s Glossine hair grease, and he felt . . . something hovering over him, watching him sleep. His groggy brain would think . . . Mama? If he gasped or sat up too quickly, or even wiped the sleep from his eyes, it was gone like a dream. But sometimes, when the June daylight charged early through the thin curtain and broke the darkness, movement glided across the red glow of his closed eyelids like someone walking past his bed. He felt no gentle kisses or fingertips brushing his forehead. No whispers of assurances and motherly love. Nothing like what people said ghosts were supposed to be, much less your dead mama. That morning he was patient, counting the way he’d practiced—one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand—and slitted his eyes open.

A woman’s shadow passed outside of the window above him, features appearing in the gaps between the sheets of tinfoil taped across the glass. In a white dress, maybe. Maybe. Moving fast, in a hurry.


The shadow didn’t stop, or turn around, or step inside the room through the wall to show her face. His hope that she would say something to him died before it was fully awake. That’s how fast she was gone. Always.