Description (from publisher):
Sixteen-year-old Devon Mackintosh has always felt like an outsider at Keaton, the prestigious California boarding school perched above the Pacific. As long as she’s not fitting in, Devon figures she might as well pad her application to Stanford’s psych program. So junior year, she decides to become a peer counselor, a de facto therapist for students in crisis. At first, it seems like it will be an easy fly-on-the-wall gig, but her expectations are turned upside down when Jason Hutchins (a.k.a. “Hutch”), one of the Keaton’s most popular students, commits suicide.
Devon dives into her new role providing support for Hutch’s friends, but she’s haunted by her own attachment to him. The two shared an extraordinary night during their first week freshman year; it was the only time at Keaton when she felt like someone else really understood her. As the secrets and confessions pile up in her sessions, Devon comes to a startling conclusion: Hutch couldn’t have taken his own life. Bound by her oath of confidentiality—and tortured by her unrequited love—Devon embarks on a solitary mission to get to the bottom of Hutch’s death, and the stakes are higher than she ever could have imagined.
I sometimes fantasize about what it would have been like to have gone to a fancy boarding school instead of my boring public school. That’s probably why there are so many books published lately that take place in boarding schools, aside from conveniently allowing teens to live without their parents for a more exciting plot. These books often make the boarding school experience seem romantic, a place where magic can happen (literally or figuratively). Escape Theory takes place in a boarding school, but presents the dark underbelly of what can happen on a campus filled with entitled, wealthy teens.
The main character, Devon, wants to be a psychiatrist, so she becomes part of a program as the first trained student counselor on campus, ready to do some peer-to-peer counseling. The timing couldn’t be better, since one of the most popular students, Hutch, has just committed suicide via an overdose of Oxycontin. This operates as a way for Devon to interview the students closest to Hutch, slowly revealing to readers that there’s something much more sinister at play here. Devon has her own history with Hutch that the school is unaware of, so she becomes personally involved and won’t let go of the idea that it was actually foul play.
I found myself becoming pleasantly pulled into the mystery at the center of the story. Froley deals with the illicit prescription drug culture on the school campus, and it made me happy that it wasn’t common to take Adderall to study when I was in school. This was a really enjoyable crime novel, but I’m confused by the set up at the end for a possible sequel or series, as well as the “A Keaton School Novel” logo on the cover. I think it works well enough as a one-off and self-contained mystery, so I hope the publisher and author can recognize when it might be best to leave well-enough alone.