Most of the goings-on at Roaring Orchards School in upstate New York are not academic but instead personal and chaotic.
Josefson uses Benjamin, a new student at the school, as an intermittent narrator, though he also narrates events he couldn’t possibly have witnessed, so while we get his perspective on incidents at the school, we get a broader view as well. With two failed suicide attempts behind him, Benjamin has been placed in school by his parents, who drop him off and disappear—his first hint that life will start to be very different indeed. At Roaring Orchards he meets a plenitude of bent and broken students, most notably Tidbit, a buxom girl who’s attracted to most every drug. The most normative response that students have to the school is running away, and it seems as if they’re always being chased down and brought back against their will. The founder and headmaster of the school is Aubrey, who one day had an epiphany that students engaging in questionable behavior should not be expelled, and he found an eager cadre of parents who bought into this philosophy, for he was able to expand the school impressively after he put this policy into effect. Because it’s a school for “troubled teens,” Aubrey has instituted a number of strategies, many of them involving therapy but most of them questionable—like having students relive birth trauma, for example, or placing them in “alternative” dorms to isolate them for untoward behavior. We eventually find out that Benjamin is narrating these events of his adolescence from an adult perspective, and his visit to Roaring Orchards after Aubrey’s death and the school’s demise is particularly poignant.
Josefson writes vigorously and is well attuned to the upheavals experienced by adolescents.