Shame on You – Clara Salaman

Caroline Stern is just like any London teenager. Except she lives in a religious sect. 

As a child of 'The Organization' her every move – from what she eats to when she talks and who she'll marry – is dictated by her elders. But as Caroline's freethinking ways bring her into conflict with terrifying Miss Fowler and brutal punishments push her to breaking point, she acts on a terrible impulse and exacts a horrifying revenge. 

Twenty years later Caroline is living with her lover, Joe. He knows her as Lorrie and is unaware of the troubled childhood she's left behind. Until an old friend reappears and Caroline discovers that the past isn't so easily buried...

Genre: Fiction
Year: 2009
Publisher: Viking
Rating: 3/5

Shame on You is written by Clara Salaman and is based on her real life experiences at a offshoot religious sect school. 

Salaman tells the story of Caroline, a young girl who is subjected to abuse at her school, by her evil headmistresses, Miss Fowler. Fowler, for some reason, hates Caroline. She sees her as defiant and evil so like all good religious nutters she punishes Caroline in both physical and emotional ways, all while teaching peace and love to her other students. 

The only positive aspect of school for Caroline is Mr Steinberg. The non-organization teacher, who takes the Ancient Greek class. Mr Steinberg is young, attractive and worldly. He is everything The Organization is not.

Caroline tries to tell her parents what is happening but they have put all their faith in The Absolute (their version of God) and The Organization. They tell Caroline that she chose this life by being born to them and must live with it. Eventually, Caroline can't take it anymore and exacts revenge... she then flees in fear.

Jump ahead twenty years and Caroline is now Lorrie. Lorrie lives with Joe, her long term boyfriend, and her dog, Tilly. She works as a therapist and attempts to put people's shattered lives back together, all while struggling with her own. Joe knows nothing about her past and this causes tension in their relationship.

One day by chance she meets Amy, a girl she went to school with. At first Caroline is hesitant to even acknowledge Amy as she does not want to remember her past, but she agrees to spend the weekend with her as Amy has also left The Organization. 

Too bad Amy is still friends with Megan, Caroline's old best friend, and others from The Organisation. Megan is desperate to see Caroline and wants to renew their friendship. To Caroline's surprise, Megan has married Mr Steinberg who is now a part of The Organization... before Caroline knows it old passions are reawakened and she is heading down a dangerous path of self-destruction. 

This book is so different to what I normally read. My mum picked it up for a few dollars off a remaindered table at a discount store. It was a quick read, I knocked it over in a few hours with a few breaks. It was enjoyable, a little frustrating and very strange. 

When I read this book I had no idea it was based on fact. Salaman obviously has major hang ups about her schooling experiences. She paints the school, The Organization, the headmistress and her parents as evil. 

The Organization seems to be some sort of Hindu cult. The school is called St Augustine's (based on the St James Independent School Salaman attended) and the students have to take classes on meditation, vedic dancing and other such things. The cult is run by Mr. Wapinski, a self appointed guru, and its members are not allowed contact with the outside world. Free will is frowned upon so Caroline does not fit in with The Organizations teaching, as free will is something she has an abundance of.

I enjoyed reading about the school and Carloline's childhood. I have no doubt that cults like The Organization do exist. I am not sure how accurate this account is as the story is 'fiction' but 'based-on' fact... I can't begin to work out which parts of the story fit into either of those categories.

The story of Caroline's childhood is intertwined with Lorrie's adult life. We slowly learn about each through alternating chapters. As interesting as Caroline's childhood was, and as endearing as she was as a child, I could not warm to Lorrie. 

Lorrie is selfish, distant and messed up. Understandable considering her upbringing but I could not sympathise with her. She refused to work on herself, or her relationship then got all whiny when Joe stopped pandering to her.. she treated him terribly and then was all whiny when he wouldn't put up with it anymore... She deliberately did things which she knew would hurt people and ruin her life then complained about it later. Come on lady! You would think a therapist would be a little smarter when it came to these thing. Obviously not. 

Besides an inability to connect with Lorrie, this was an interesting enough book. The ending, however, was unsatisfying. It ended abruptly without closure on certain aspects of the story. Very disappointing. 

Despite my misgivings, I am still glad I read this book. As I said earlier, it was different to the sorts of books I normally read and I like to read outside my comfort zone. I think for those who had a similar upbringing to Salaman, this book may be of interest (or it may be painful). It makes me wonder how many schools like this exist today and if these sorts of practices are still considered acceptable by some?
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