Clandestine relationships. Blackmailing roommates. After-hours excursions. And a gorgeous, grey-eyed rule breaker that may set Logan Shields’ first year at Cherrington Academy on a trail of fire.
Cherrington Academy by Rebecca J. Caffery is a coming-of-age novel following transfer student Logan Shields on his escape from homophobic bullies and neglectful parents to the private boarding school, Cherrington Academy. It’s here that he makes his transformation from victim to self-awareness, albeit with many dramatic turns along the path.
Logan was the victim of physically abusive bullies and has the scars to prove it. When he convinces his often absent parents to send him across the country to the esteemed Cherrington Academy, he sees an opportunity for a fresh start away from the site of his childhood traumas.
Cherrington quickly becomes his safe haven, as Logan falls in with a tight-knit crowd. Though coming in as an outsider, they envelop him with open arms and give him a sense of security and safety he’s never experienced before.
But Logan is untrained in the art of friendship, and when the gorgeous Isaac begins to show an interest despite being in a long-term relationship, he begins to lose himself in the promise of love.
High school novels featuring LGBTQ+ characters have a tendency to focus on coming out or the secrecy of a relationship based on queerness. They often rely on the experience of homophobia as the driving force.
This was where Caffery laid down her first card; Cherrington Academy does reference homophobia in places, but more in reference to the aftermath. The trauma Logan experienced is part of his character and part of his struggle, but there are few places within the book where homophobia was actively portrayed.
Instead, queerness was simply presented as part of the character, a backdrop for the larger story, which was really about relationships, coming into yourself as a person, learning from mistakes, and how to make amends. This was a bold choice, one that I think we need. When we only get one narrative in the genre of high-school fiction it becomes homogenous and disingenuous, ignoring large swaths of the queer experience in a high school setting.
Where homophobia does come in actually relates to the experience of trauma at a young age. Caffery doesn’t shy away from showing the long-term traumatic effects of bullying. We see the scars of his past—his fear of coming out even amongst close friends, his physical flinching in certain situations, his panic attacks. These are long-lasting effects that don’t go away once someone is removed from the situation. I applaud her for not relying on the ‘quick fix’ scenario but letting it partially define Logan’s character.
The hallmark of this book is the attention to relationships. There’s a large cast of characters, which has the potential to become unwieldy. But because the space the novel exists in is mostly contained to the school, it gave Caffery the ability to really develop the relationships within the novel and have us follow along without missing a beat. This meant flawless, full-rendered relationships that worked like a spider’s web to weave together a friends group that didn’t leave readers confused.
The characters in Cherrington Academy all feel like they’ve been molded from real-life examples because they’re so well executed. There’s a theory in fiction that when writing a novel, to the reader a character and world should feel like an iceberg; like we’re only seeing the tip, but it goes much further down. This means that in order for a character to feel real, the novelist needs to know more about the character than what is actually mentioned in the story. The characters in this novel feel like they’ve been precisely developed to minutiae, and it shows.
Should You Read It?
As always, please read the Trigger Warnings at the bottom of the article if you have certain triggers that may potentially prevent you from enjoying this book. This particular book was lighter than many I’ve reviewed, but please still be cautious if you know there’s something you need to look out for. Self-compassion first!
The actual plot of the novel reads like a high school version of The L Word or Queer As Folk. If you’re a fan of dramas, especially featuring queer characters, this will be up your alley. It brought memories back of my own high school years (and all the drama that ensued!) which I think speaks to the reality of what Caffery is trying to show.
On a personal note to my readers who may be looking to gift this to a teenager in their lives, it’s something I’d be comfortable giving my niece who is sixteen. I felt it was a positive example of queer fiction that would be appropriate for that age group (and for us older folk too) without ruffling too many feathers.
I rated Cherrington Academy as Fireworks. It reminded me that sometimes the largest flames burn the fastest, and the smallest of sparks should be cherished, always.
Trigger Warnings (Highlight to Read): Depictions of Depression & Anxiety, Homophobia, Terminal Illness
Disclosure: I received an Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review of Cherrington Academy by Rebecca Caffery.