by Christine Grabowski

Dickensen Academy isn’t a typical boarding school. The faculty is hiding an unbelievable secret within their fine arts program. When Autumn Mattison receives an invitation to attend the high school, she yearns to escape her overbearing father yet remains reluctant to leave her mother and brother. Her doubts fade away when a vivid dream convinces her she belongs there.

Away from home, Autumn discovers a unique school environment that awakens her creative potential, and her new friends become like a second family. However, as she uncovers more about the dark side of the school and struggles with its curriculum, she questions whether Dickensen Academy is truly where she belongs.

When tragedy strikes, Autumn must learn to believe in her own power and stand up to her greatest fear or risk having her memories destroyed to protect the school’s secrets. Caught between secrets and dreams, can she find her true self?

Clues to the secret existed from day one, yet they appeared to belong to separate puzzles. Most students either missed these signs or chose to ignore them. We were busy acclimating—as the faculty called it—to a new environment. Some outsiders might call what they did to us those initial weeks a form of brainwashing or fostering a cult-like mentality.

But not me.

I agreed with Principal Locke. We weren’t ready. We needed time to separate from our families and become a cohesive group. And some of us, myself included, even needed a little nudge to accept the invitation. If someone had told us the truth on Day One why they’d brought us to Dickensen Academy, we would have never believed it. We’d think they were crazy. Or worse, we’d turn around and run back home. But if we left, we would have missed out on something extraordinary. Something worth the wait.


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-What inspired you to become a writer?

Watching my children learn to read inspired me to want to write books that would keep children and young adults reading, so they would have the love of reading for a lifetime.

-If you could visit your book’s world for a day, what one thing would you do?

I would want Mr. Katz, the science teacher, to send me an academic dream—the one where my four best friends and I are sent on an ecological tour of the world. Flying through the rainforest on a vine would be the best part of that adventure.

-It’s two in the morning. What does your protagonist reveal in confidence? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell.)

Autumn would tell me she doesn’t believe dream telepathy exists.

-Which of your characters would you go out for drinks with?

Definitely Ben. I fell in love with him as I wrote him. He is extremely cute with sandy blond hair that is always falling in his face. He is smart and comfortable chatting with girls.

-You’re in a tavern, and a dwarf challenges you to a duel. What do you do?

I am a better runner than a fighter, so I think I would attempt to hurdle over him and then run for my life.

-Is there a genre you could never write? Which and why?

Historical fiction. I absolutely love to read it, but I could never do it justice if I wrote it. I don’t know much about history, and I’d probably try to cram all of my research in, turning the novel into a big info dump that reads like an encyclopedia rather than immersing the reader into another time period organically.

This is a great coming-of-age fantasy for young readers. Dickensen Academy gives another take on the school of magic, which is always fun to read. Autumn shows this fantastical world through a lens of excitement and nervousness. She’s definitely a multi-dimensional character, and I enjoyed watching her grow.

The magic of dreams is really neat. I especially like how it’s incorporated into classes for the corps subjects—science, etc. In dreams, Autumn and her friends can experience the world’s varied ecosystems and learn second languages by engaging in discussion with fluent speakers. Now that would be a great addition to regular classes.

Autumn faces challenges both internal and external. She struggles with the conveying of dreams to fellow students, which is due in part to the pressure put on her by her father. There is also some darkness involving nightmares, which was actually far less developed than I expected based on the book’s description. The story focused more on Autumn’s personal journey, which is fine. But it wasn’t what I expected at all. The entire darkness angle felt unfinished. It’s hinted at here and there, but it doesn’t get resolved really.

Autumn’s relationships with her friends came across great. She laughs and cries with her roommate and other girls. The light romance with Ben, on the other hand, felt underdeveloped. Their feelings cropped up really quick, and there didn’t seem to be enough interaction between him and Autumn for the strength of Autumn’s feelings. I also really liked Autumn’s relationship with her brother. Siblings in young adult fiction often make me smile.

All in all, a great read for kids wanting to dive into the fantasy genre. A few things could have been more fleshed out, but this story left me with such a feel-good response. I wonder what Autumn and her friends will get up to next.


Dickensen Academy is Christine’s debut YA novel. After graduating from the University of Washington, she earned her MBA at the University at Albany. She honed her technical writing skills in marketing and consulting but attributes the creative part of the process to her passion for reading.

When she isn’t reading or writing, Christine can often be found running, skiing, or hiking. She lives in Newcastle, Washington, with her supportive husband, two avid teen readers, and their energetic wheaten terriers.

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