I’m so excited to be able to participate in the blog tour for The Castle School: For Troubled Girls by Alyssa Sheinmel! I was so happy I got to read this book early because I absolutely loved it. Be sure to check out the other posts on this tour, schedule link here. Thanks again to TBR Beyond Tours for allowing me to participate.
The Castle School: For Troubled Girls by Alyssa Sheinmel
Published: March 2, 2021
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: YA Contemporary
When Moira Dreyfuss’s parents announce that they’re sending her to an all-girls boarding school deep in the Maine woods, Moira isn’t fooled. She knows her parents are punishing her; she’s been too much trouble since her best friend, Nathan, died―and for a while before that. At the Castle School, isolated from the rest of the world, Moira will be expected to pour her heart out to the odd headmaster, Dr. Prince. But she isn’t interested in getting over Nathan’s death or befriending her fellow students.
On her first night there, Moira hears distant music. On her second, she discovers the lock on her window is broken. On her third, she and her roommate venture outside…and learn that they’re not so isolated after all. There’s another, very different, Castle School nearby―this one filled with boys whose parents sent them away, too.
Moira is convinced that the Castle Schools and the doctors who run them are hiding something. But exploring the schools will force Moira to confront her overwhelming grief―and the real reasons her parents sent her away.
Jumping into this book, I wasn’t sure what I would feel. I knew this story was about a girl who lost her best friend. I knew that this girl was so devastated that her parents couldn’t feel like they could give her what she needed to heal. But as I read more, I realized that was only part of this story.
One thing I loved about this book was that it included scenes from the other girl’s POVs. We get a view at teenage alcoholism and drug abuse, self harm, depression, anorexia, trichotillomania (pulling your hair out), selective mutism, grief, and more. In this home of twelve girls, even though Moira is our main point of view, we get to see the other girls stories and understand why there were at The Castle School as well.
Following along with Moira, her journey with grief gave me a lot of insight on my own journey with grief. Unfortunately, everyone will lose someone in their life. Someone they love will die and while some deaths are easier to accept, others will devastate us. I have felt that devastation before. That feeling that the death wasn’t fair and somehow, someway, if something was different, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. But it did. Watching Moira learn about her grief and come to accept that she not only wasn’t at fault, but that she can enjoy life after losing her best friend, made me really emotional. I was tearing up a lot at the end.
I loved the message of this book and while it was interesting to see the dichotomy of the two schools, I was more invested in the girl’s journey of healing. I was so happy for Moira at the end, after she felt like she had some closure, and while I was sad for another character (no spoilers), I felt like the book ended on a sounding note. This is what it is.
What are you looking forward to the most on release day?
The Castle School (for Troubled Girls) was loosely inspired by the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, which has always been one of my favorite stories. I’ve been thinking how I could play with that fairy tale for a long time—I actually started imagining Moira and the rest of the characters in The Castle School (for Troubled Girls) years ago. I’m so excited that after all this time, this book is going to be out in the world for people to read.
If you had the opportunity to rewrite the book from a different character’s perspective, who would you choose?
Oh, what a great question! I’d kind of love to tell this story from the perspective of each of the students at the Castle School. Every one of them is at the school for reasons all her own, and each of them has a rich, complicated story to tell.
What’s a fact/moment/piece of research that you love but weren’t able to include in this book?
Moira, the narrator, loves trivia, so while I was writing the book, I researched a lot of trivia to add to the story—from weather patterns in Maine, where the story largely takes place, to the history of Moira’s favorite book, Wuthering Heights. I definitely had to scale back some of those facts and figures as I revised—at one point I had a full page of facts about Wuthering Heights!
If you had to swap lives with one of your characters, who would you choose and why?
I think Randy Prince, Dr. Prince’s son. I love how he is something of an observer at the Castle School—he’s not a student there, but he’s the same age as some of the students, and he’s lived there for a long time. I think he understands the school better than anyone.
Mental illness is something many people suffer from in varying degrees, what inspired you to write about teenagers experiencing different kinds of mental illnesses?
Several of my books have dealt with mental illness in one way or another. I think we write about the things that are important to us, and this is a topic that is important to me—one about which there is always more to learn and more stories to tell.
What is the most intense writing moment you’ve experienced with this book?
Throughout the book, there are twelve chapters written in the third person. These chapters tell the story of how each student at The Castle School ended up there. Writing these chapters was probably my favorite part of writing this book, and each was intense for reasons of its own.
Any advice for other writers who want to write about characters with mental illness?
Embrace research. I’m a very research-happy writer, and I’m so grateful for all the articles, memoirs, textbooks, and interviews that have informed my stories over the years. But I also know I’m writing one person’s story, and people experience mental illness differently. Even when I’ve written about my own history with eating disorders, I know that my experience may be very different from someone else who struggled with similar issues. I think it’s important to remember that even though I may be writing about something many people have experienced, I’m only telling only one person’s story.
Alyssa was born in Stanford, California, and even though she moved across the country to New York when she was six years old, she still thinks of herself as a California girl.
She still remembers the very first chapter book she ever read—The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, by Judy Blume. Before long, reading was her favorite thing in the world. She loved it so much that when there was nothing to read, she wrote my own stories just to give herself something to read. And when there was no pen and paper to be had, she just made up stories in her head.