Dickensen Academy by Christine Grabowski

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  • 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?

    Rating:  Sweet
    Page Count: 348
    Word Count: 82686
    978-1-5092-2123-3 Paperback
    978-1-5092-2124-0 Digital


    Chapter: 1


    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 them. 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.

    My first day was confusing enough. I hopped out of the backseat the moment our SUV stopped. The sun was bright without a cloud in the sky, but the air had a definite chill. Fall must have begun earlier in the mountains.

    “Excited?” Dad said as he climbed out, along with Mom and my older brother Josh.

    I nodded slightly as I took it all in. The parking lot occupied the edge of a huge clearing surrounded by towering evergreens and distant peaks. Birds sang a welcome and pine scent hung in the air. This place was larger than I’d imagined.

    When I turned toward the cream-colored buildings, I gasped. Images of myself on campus flickered through my brain: walking between the dorm and the school, crouching below a huge modern art sculpture, and sitting near a pond reflecting this same wooded backdrop.

    I’d been here before.

    No. Impossible. The three largest buildings were plastered all over the academy’s brochure and website. That’s where I’d seen them. I ignored the fine hairs sticking up on the back of my neck. Must’ve been the breeze.

    A young guy trotted toward us with a clipboard and gave us a school-portrait-worthy smile—likely one he’d practiced for the parents. He looked a few years older than me, probably a senior like my brother. “Welcome to Dickensen Academy. Can I get your name?”

    As I opened my mouth to answer, Dad beat me to it. “Autumn Mattison.”

    I forced a smile while my hands bunched into fists at my sides.

    He scanned his list and marked something down. “All freshmen are assigned to O’Reilly Hall. That’s the dormitory off to the left.” He pointed the way. “Follow those people across the quad.”

    We each grabbed a bag and headed toward the dorm. None of my friends went to boarding school. Most everything I knew about them came from books and movies. But this place might be a lot different. It would be packed with the most creative teens from the western side of the United States, not a bunch of rich kids since tuition was paid by the Dickensen Foundation. I jogged ahead, mentally urging my family to walk faster, but they carried the heavier items.

    In the center of the grassy quad where multiple concrete paths intersected, I paused to inspect three life-size statues of students: one painting at an easel, one reading a book, and one writing at a desk.

    I turned to Mom when she caught up. “I can’t believe this is actually happening.”

    Her eyes glistened as she gave a tight smile. “Me neither.”

    Dickensen Academy was invitation only to apply. My summer had been filled with testing and interviews, but the chance of acceptance had been slim. I didn’t know who was most shocked when two recruiters appeared at our house ten days ago to offer me a spot. But one thing remained clear. Mom was the least confident in my decision to move away from home just shy of my fifteenth birthday. Avoiding further eye contact with her, I continued toward the three-story building ahead.

    Once inside, we found a spacious sitting room of dark woods and rich reds where several people milled about. Wide hallways led in opposite directions. A woman with gray hair, thick glasses, and a warm smile introduced herself as Margaret Humphrey, my resident advisor. She handed me a thick manila envelope. “You’ll be rooming with another freshman named Aditi Singh on the second floor.”

    She proceeded to rattle on with some basic information, but my mind drifted. Thoughts of Aditi filled my head. What was she like? Would we get along?

    Soon I realized Josh was no longer in our midst. I surveyed the room while pretending to listen to my RA. There he was already chatting with two girls. I couldn’t believe it. Well, yes, I could. This had been happening for years. Even though our olive green eyes, pale skin, and light brown hair marked us as siblings, his features came together more perfectly, as evidenced by the stream of girls who trailed him like groupies. I never had this problem with guys.



A Fun Fantasy!

Though this book is written for teen girls it was a pleasure to read it as an adult. It was fun to be transported into the unpredictable world of Autumn Mattison’s new life at Dickensen Academy. Reading from the view point of Autumn really let me feel what she was going through in all the ups and downs she experienced in her first year at the school and had me on the edge of my seat many times. I can see teen girls really relating to and enjoying this book.

Dickensen Academy has a magical and Harry Potter like feel. I am impressed by the author’s imagination and very clever theme. The story goes in so many interesting directions and would make a great fantasy type movie.

I can easily see this storyline being a series of books and hope the author writes more to continue the adventures of Autumn Mattison and her friends to see what transpires in the rest of their years at Dickensen Academy.


    An intriguing remote location with a touch of mystery

    Dickensen Academy is the debut novel by author Christine Grabowski.

    Cover to end, this book was amazing. In just looking at the cover, the book pulled me in. You see what Autumn Mattison sees – a large daunting structure – but there is a hint of innocence with her braided hair and bright pink flowers. You wonder along with her, what is to come.

    This book follows the story of Autumn who gets accepted into a boarding school in a remote area of Washington State. She quickly learns that this may not be the great opportunity she thought it would be. She becomes part of a magical world where she get immersed in typical teenage issues, but also into the dark and often obscure secrets of the school. She realizes that her acceptance here wasn’t about her grades or character, but because she has an unusual “gift”. The path she follows in her first year at the school is one of excitement, familiarity, intrigue, shock, and ultimately contentment. She meets other kids who apparently possess the same unusual "gift" as her as they all get enthralled in this new world. Each chapter is a new experience, and while you wonder if it’s reality, you also end up rooting for Autumn as each page turns.

    Christine creates a full cast of characters in an intriguing and mysterious setting. The characters are likable and believable, even when the unbelievable is happening. The writing is simple, detailed, and descriptive. You really feel like you are there experiencing it with Autumn. There is suspense, adventure, friendships, dreams, and romance. The characters grow both personally and together as a group. Christine uses creativity, imagination, and mystery in a brilliant way to develop and reveal her story.

    I really enjoyed this book and Autumn’s story. Definitely put this book on your reading list, if you enjoy YA.


      Love this book. Perfect for YA, teachers, parents

      The main character, Autumn Mattison, grabbed my heart from the first chapter, and the author, Christine Grabowski, took me back to my own school days. The setting descriptions were vivid, the dialogues flowed naturally, and the story line was very different from most YA novels, which may be the reason I enjoyed this book so much.

      I was immediately drawn to Autumn because of her sweet innocence and yet feisty loyalty to friends. Her story depicted the true emotions of a typical teenager trying to fit in at a new school, and Grabowski’s clean, crisp writing make this a perfect YA novel. The young characters are richly developed, the story is thought-provoking, and the author’s writing style is descriptive and persuasive. Grabowski has thrown a clever spin into the academic story line, and she makes that twist believable.

      The author’s relaxed narration of both the simple and complex teenage years makes this novel an easy read but, without revealing too much, what will keep your attention the entire time is the unusualness of the tale. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Captivating.


        Refreshing, Inspiring & Thought Provoking

        Dickensen Academy is one of the most refreshing, inspiring and thought provoking books I’ve read in a long time. I read it with my teenage daughters, and it prompted the most inquisitive and deep conversations between us. We discussed new ways of thinking, paradigm shifts and possibilities. This book evokes the feeling of sitting in your favorite chair, sipping a cup of hot tea with your favorite blanket wrapped around you and falling in love with Life all over again. It allowed me to dream like a child again. I kept picturing myself in the book with the characters thinking, “Wow, what an Incredible concept the author came up with. Just incredible.” This should be made into a movie. Not since Harry Potter have I been swept away in a fantasy novel with such profound concepts, details and limitless possibilities. Truly a Gem. ~ Mother of Three Teenagers

        • 1 out of 1 people found this review useful.

        Dickensen Academy

        The beautiful jacket cover of Dickensen Academy both attracts and intrigues readers, and within the first few pages, like the students themselves we are caught up in the mystery of wondering why these particular students were invited to attend this little-known, but academically strong, secluded high school.

        Through easy and natural conversations and emotions being felt, the author’s beautifully simple writing style and descriptions flow so easily we are surprised at how much we are learning about her characters.

        I loved Autumn, through whose eyes and feelings the book is centered, and who herself admits she is too quiet, has a “shaky ego”, and is nothing special. I also loved the diversity of the characters who were invited to Dickensen, and how easy it was to visualize and enjoy each one’s unique personality through Autumn’s thoughts and observations. And lastly, I loved the atmosphere of the school itself and the friendships made. I would have loved to go there. As an adult, I enjoyed “Dickensen Academy” and hopefully will be able to read more about Autumn and her friends.

        • 1 out of 1 people found this review useful.

        Dickensen Academy Review

        I thoroughly enjoyed Christine Grabowski’s Dickensen Academy and recommend it to everyone who enjoys Young Adult novels that have a sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal component. Being retired, I am obviously not part of the target group for this book. But I love young adult novels that have well developed characters that I can relate to, and a book which can take me back in time to the excitement and fears of my teenage years. This book did that for me. I think everyone will love the main character, Autumn—a seemingly typical teenage girl trying to find her own identity. As just an average student, Autumn was surprised at her selection to the Dickensen Academy--an elite high school in Washington State noted for its emphasis on academics. Dickensen boards its students at a remote campus located in the mountains of Washington State; while this was a bit concerning to Autumn’s parents, they thought the fewer distractions there would create a better learning environment. But, as Autumn was to soon learn, that was not the real reason for the seclusion.

        Shortly after settling in at Dickensen for her freshman year, Autumn and her classmates started getting clues there was a big secret about Dickenson that none of the freshmen knew about. Everyone was puzzled about what was really going on, and their anxiety was fueled by having no cell phone service and poor internet capability. Soon the school president confirmed their suspicion when he told the freshmen about the primary reason they were selected to attend Dickensen. He explained that the preadmission testing showed each selected student had the capability to learn a powerful skill that was thought to be impossible by the outside world, and each student would learn to develop this skill during their 4 years at Dickensen. He stressed the vital importance of keeping this skill a secret.

        Teaching the students how to perform this unique skill forms the basis of this book. Grabowski wove a wonderful, gripping, and suspenseful story around Autumn and her classmates learning to cope with the nature of the skill and to learn the basic techniques needed to perform it. But Autumn and her friends wondered how Dickensen could keep its mission a secret, and what would happen to persons using the skill for evil purposes. Autumn also had some major obstacles rear up that looked like they would force her to leave Dickensen. How she tries to overcome the setbacks leads to an emotional and very fitting conclusion.

        I want to make two other points that might interest potential readers. First, upon finishing this book I clearly thought sequels would be in order. Autumn was only in her first year at Dickensen and surely many other exciting events could unfold with her new skill as she finishes up her schooling there or somewhere else…and also after she graduates. I really hope Christine has sequels in her plan as I am anxious to read them! Second, the Dickensen story seems to be a great fit for the silver screen—the secret, how to keep it hidden, how to keep it from being abused, and the possibility of sequels could be of great interest to producers.

        • 3 out of 3 people found this review useful.

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        Dickensen Academy

        Dickensen Academy

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