A Dangerous Education

Written by Megan Chance
Review by Fiona Alison

1954, Seattle. Thirty-something Rosemary is a home economics teacher at a failing school for wayward girls from ultra-rich families, tasked with turning them into dutiful wives and mothers. When her mother dies, her parting message sends Rosemary into a tailspin of memory: in 1936, she was a runaway teenager in love, pregnant, and unwilling to surrender her child. Her mother’s message― “She’s there, at Mercer Rocks [School]” ―means her daughter is one of the three seniors, but with a falsified birth date, there’s no way to know which one. Now every interaction with the girls is coloured by Rosemary’s desperate need to know.

When the girls start asking questions which fall far outside the rigid curriculum, she has to make a decision. Looking back on her own life, she is all too aware that lies and prevarication caused her to fall into many traps and make mistakes she might not have made, had someone―her parents, her family, the school, the media, anyone―told her the truth. Sympathising with the girls’ dilemma, she decides to be open and honest with them about love, sex, birth control, pregnancy, abortion, and more. But with a staffing change comes an increasingly sinister shift in the girls’ demeanor, and Rosemary is drawn into their web of lies and deceit.

I would not normally choose a book about high school students, but Megan Chance has never let me down and I was gripped by this from the start. For those of us who remember domestic science classes, I doubt many gave thought to them from a feminist standpoint, or considered what the curriculum was teaching us, rather than what it was not. Chance’s knack of introducing quiet menace into her novels pulls the story along at break-neck speed. I couldn’t let go! Highly recommended for a unique look at the McCarthy era and its attempt to squeeze the individuality out of a generation of students.