Sisters in Sanity

( 39 )


"Where are they taking me?"

"It's for your own good, Brit," Dad said.

I was shoved into a small, stuffy room, and the door was locked behind me. I waited for my dad to realize he'd made a terrible mistake and come get me.

But he didn't.

For sixteen-year-old Brit Hemphill, it's hard to know who she can trust. Convinced she's out of control, her father has sentenced her to Red Rock: a center for supposedly ...

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"Where are they taking me?"

"It's for your own good, Brit," Dad said.

I was shoved into a small, stuffy room, and the door was locked behind me. I waited for my dad to realize he'd made a terrible mistake and come get me.

But he didn't.

For sixteen-year-old Brit Hemphill, it's hard to know who she can trust. Convinced she's out of control, her father has sentenced her to Red Rock: a center for supposedly rebellious teens, where the therapy consists of name-calling and the girls who get privileges are the ones who rat out their peers.

But then Brit meets V, Bebe, Martha, and Cassie—four girls who keep her from going over the edge. Together, they'll hold on to their sanity and their sisterhood despite the bleak Red Rock reality.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Debbie Levy
Sixteen-year-old Brit Hemphill has magenta streaks in her hair, calls her stepmother the "Stepmonster," has decorated herself with tattoos, and plays guitar in a punk rock band. Okay, so this rebel is not every parent's dream child, but she is hardly a sociopath. Her father sees things differently, however, and so on Labor Day weekend before Brit's junior year in high school, he drives her to a "boarding school" called Red Rock Academy in the middle of nowhere, Utah, and leaves her there, as he says, "for your own good." Red Rock is a boot-camp-style treatment center that specializes in taking the rebel out of rebellious girls. Its approach is to demean and demonize its charges. Unqualified counselors belittle, confront, and inflict punishments as part of a strategy of breaking the girls down. It is harsh, non-therapeutic, and downright harmful. Little by little, Brit finds V, Bebe, Martha, and Cassie, four other "inmates" who help each other cope, and, as things at Red Rock go from bad to worse, the girls figure out a way to expose the facility for the bogus, dangerous institution it is and uncover some of their own hidden truths in the process. As an author's note acknowledges, the fictional Red Rock is rather more oppressive than actual behavioral modification boot camps that she has investigated, but the place, characters, and story are well-drawn and believable. This suspenseful novel is full of heart. Reviewer: Debbie Levy
Sixteen-year-old Brit Hemphill's mother disappeared six years earlier after slowly going crazy, a reality with which Brit must deal. Brit lives with her father and stepmother and plays guitar in a band until her dad drops her off at Red Rock, a school for unmanageable girls that intimidates the attendees and rewards them for telling on each other. Group therapy consists of forming a circle around a girl and screaming insults at her. Treated like a prisoner, Brit earns privileges by working her way through levels imposed by the instructors. She feels isolated until she becomes friends with a group of girls who dub themselves "Sisters in Sanity." The girls meet secretly late at night to plot shutting down the entire institution. As they devise a plan that will work, each must face her biggest fear. The chapters are short and the plot gripping. Although the situation seems unreal, the book is based on the author's research and interviews with girls who attended behavior modification camps like the fictional Red Rock. Reading the book is like gazing at an accident and being glad not to be the one there. Readers can understand why parents might believe these camps are a good idea, but they can also see that they cause more damage than help. Some of the action is heavy-handed, with a clear message, but readers will care enough about the characters to want to know what happens to them. Reviewer: Cindy Faughnan
School Library Journal

Gr 7 Up
Already unhappy at being forced to go on a family vacation and missing the chance to play with her punk band at a music festival, 16-year-old Brit is horrified when her father drops her off at Red Rock Academy, a "boot camp" in Utah. Dragged away from him by muscular guards, a sobbing Brit passes an unhappy night before being strip-searched and presented to a therapist the next morning. She is diagnosed as having oppositional defiance disorder and is introduced to the Red Rock reward levels: Level 1-you remain indoors in isolation, emerging only for individual therapy or to use the bathroom; Level 2-you get your shoes back, can leave your room for meals and group therapy, and can receive mail from family members; and so on. In this prison-camp atmosphere, Brit eventually makes four supportive friends with whom she is able to expose the bogus treatment being administered by Red Rock's unqualified staff, one of whom has a record of abusive behavior. Along the way, she escapes for a night and begins a romance with an older bandmate. Although Forman does a good job of capturing teen friendship and angst, the book is not strong on character development. For example, though Brit believes that her stepmother wants her out of the way, readers never gain a true understanding of the father's motivation for committing his daughter, an omission that may be frightening for teens.
—Ginny GustinCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060887490
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/21/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 280,330
  • Age range: 13 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is an award-winning author and journalist whose articles have appeared in such publications as Jane, Seventeen, Glamour, Elle, and The New York Times Magazine, to name just a few. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

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Read an Excerpt

Sisters in Sanity

Chapter One

It was supposed to be a trip to the Grand Canyon, a trip I didn't want to take. In the middle of summer it was like five thousand degrees in the desert—there's no way I could survive that and two days in the car with my dad and the Stepmonster. All the Stepmonster ever wants to do is rag on me about everything. My hair—magenta with black streaks or black with magenta streaks, depending on your perspective. My tattoos—a Celtic armband, a daisy chain on my ankle, and a heart somewhere the Stepmonster will never see. And what a bad influence I am on Billy, my half brother—who's only a baby for Chrissakes, and who probably thinks my tattoos are cartoons if he even notices them.

On top of it all, it was Labor Day weekend, the last days of freedom before junior year. It was gonna be a big hurrah. I play guitar in this band, Clod, and we were supposed to be in this Indian Summer music festival in Olympia with a bunch of really serious bands, the kind with record contracts. It was the best gig we'd ever gotten and a giant step up from the house parties and cafés we usually played. Of course, Stepmonster wouldn't get that. She thinks punk rock is some kind of devil worship and made me stop practicing in the basement once Billy was born, lest I derange his baby soul. Now I can only practice in Jed's basement, which Stepmonster also doesn't like because Jed is nineteen and lives—gasp—with a bunch of people, none of whom are his parents.

So, I politely declined. Okay, maybe not so politely. Maybe my precise words were "I'd rather eat glass," which only caused her toflounce off to Dad, who asked me in that weary way of his why I'd been so rude. I told him about the show. Once upon a time he had cared about things like music, but he just took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose and said it wasn't up for discussion. We were going as a family. I wasn't about to give up that easily. I tried all my tricks: crying, silent treatment, plate throwing. None of it worked. Stepmonster refused to discuss it, so it was just me vs. Dad, and I've never been good at giving him grief, so I had to give in.

I broke the news to my band. Erik, our stoner of a drummer, was just like, "Dude, bummer," but Denise and Jed were really upset. "We've worked so hard—you've worked so hard," Jed said, totally breaking my heart with his disappointment. It was true. Three years ago I didn't know a C chord from an F, and now I was booked for a major gig, or should have been. Clod would be playing the Indian Summer Festival as a trio. I was completely crushed I'd be missing it—although it was kind of nice that Jed seemed sad about it.

I should've figured something was fishy when that Friday morning it was just Dad packing up the turdmobile, the hideous brown minivan Stepmonster insisted they buy when Billy was born. Meanwhile, Stepmonster and Billy were nowhere to be found.

"God, she's always late. You know it's a form of control?"

"Thank you for the psychoanalysis, Brit, but your mom's not driving with us."

"She's not my mom, and what's the deal? You said it was a family vacation, which is why I had to go, had to miss Indian Summer. If they got out of it, I'm not going."

"It is a family vacation," Dad told me, shoving my suitcase into the back. "But two days in a car is too much for Billy. They're going to fly down and meet us."

I really should've known something was way fishy when we approached Las Vegas and Dad suggested we stop. Back when Mom was around, this was precisely the kind of thing we'd do. Jump in the car at a moment's notice and drive to Vegas or San Francisco. I remember one night during a heat wave when none of us could sleep; at one in the morning we threw our sleeping bags into the car and drove into the mountains, where there was a perfect breeze. It had been ages since Dad had been cool like that. The Stepmonster had him convinced that spontaneity equaled irresponsibility.

Dad bought me lunch at the fake canals of the Bellagio and even smiled a little when I made fun of some of the fanny-packed tourists. Then we went to a cheesy casino downtown. He said no one would care that I was only sixteen and he gave me twenty bucks to plug into the slot machines. Our little trip was shaping up to be not so bad after all. But when I spied Dad watching me play the slots I couldn't help thinking that he looked, well, empty, like someone had taken a vacuum cleaner and sucked out his soul or something. He didn't even get excited when I won thirty-five bucks, and he insisted on pocketing the money to keep it safe for me. Again, a red flag I didn't notice. Idiot-moron me, for the first time in ages, was just having fun with the Dad I'd been missing for years.

When we left Vegas, he turned quiet and broody, just like he was after everything happened with Mom. I could tell he was squeezing the steering wheel hard, and the whole thing was just so weird and perplexing. I got a little preoccupied with trying to figure out what was up with him, so I didn't notice that we were no longer driving east toward the Grand Canyon, but had turned north into Utah. All I saw out the window was rust-colored clay cliffs, and they seemed Grand Canyon-y enough to me. When we pulled off at some small town just . . .

Sisters in Sanity. Copyright © by Gayle Forman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 39 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    highly recommenended

    I dont know what else to say other then i really loved this book. It really touched me and I highly recommend it.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 20, 2011

    luved it

    amazinglly awesome:) her other book if i stay is awesome too

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 15, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Jennifer Wardrip, aka "The Genius" for

    Most of us never have to worry about going on a family vacation, only to find out that we're being unceremoniously dropped off at a boot camp, instead. We have never questioned the imminent arrival of "escorts" who come in the middle of the night and drag us away, kicking and screaming, from our home. We've never wondered what it would be like to be shuffled off by our parents to a "rehabilitation school" because we're overweight --or because we might possibly be gay. For Brit, V, Bebe, Cassie, and Martha, however, the above mentioned scenarios aren't just nightmares. They're real events. <BR/><BR/>Welcome to Red Rock, a "school" in the middle of Utah run by the Sheriff, staffed by pseudo-psychiatrists like Dr. Clayton, and guarded by former bouncers with more muscles than brains. This is the place where parents can send their children when they rebel, misbehave, or show antisocial behavior. Red Rock offers such pleasantries as "confrontational therapy," where girls are called names and hounded until they break down and cry, a punishment system where being sent back to Level One status means complete isolation and no shoes, and where the food comes in freeze dried blocks. <BR/><BR/>The problem is that, although there may be a few "students" at Red Rock who really belong in such a school, most of them, like main character Brit, don't. These are teens who may have lost their way, sure, but their behavior isn't anything beyond normal adolescent angst. But what the parents don't know -- and what it's up to the Sisters in Sanity to prove -- is that Red Rock is a place full of fakes who are doing more harm than good. <BR/><BR/>When Brit and fellow "inmates" V, Bebe, Cassie, and Martha set out to get the school shut down, it's all the girls can do to avoid trouble, keep their chins up, and survive. But in the process, these five girls find a friendship that eventually helps them all in ways they'd never expected. <BR/><BR/>Ms. Forman has written a fast-paced page turner that you'll find hard to put down. SISTERS IN SANITY, although not based in hard truth, does show the frightening aspect of so-called "boot camps" for teens, and you'll find yourself appalled at the reality of the situation. Ultimately, however, you'll be overjoyed to watch Brit and her friends not only buck the system, but find their own places in the world.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2013

    Best Book EVER!!!"


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great read

    This book is about sisterhood. It's about believing in yourself and taking a stand for what you know is the right thing. Brit, V, Bebe, Cassie and Martha form a sisterhood in the secret confines of an empty office when the "goons" at Red Rock--a school for misguided teen girls--turn their backs. Together, the girls learn the ins and outs of Red Rock. They learn to survive it and they learn to rely on each other.

    Sisters in Sanity is not a typical coming-of-age tale but the reader follows Brit through her stay at Red Rock where she discovers who she is and what she's made of. It's well written, an easy and entertaining read that can make you laugh one minute, cry the next and be fuming with anger when you turn the page again. The characters are unique, full of individuality and life. You feel like you're right there with them in the quarry, building walls or hiking up the hills in 90 degree heat. You can't help but feel like a part of their sisterhood.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2007

    not just for teenage girls

    Brit finds herself betrayed by her own beloved father when he delivers her, unknowing, to one of those wilderness schools that are supposed to dispense tough love and reform 'troubled' kids. Brit, whose troubledness consists mostly of dressing gothly and playing guitar in a band, eventually befriends a varied group of girls, each with her own 'troubles' and issues, each in her own way equally unfairly trapped at Red Rock, which is essentially run as a financial scam to dupe the kids' parents, with a certain amount of fake psychotherapy that the girls all see through and manipulate in their own ways. Brit has to learn to overcome her own stubbornness and let down her guard with her new friends soon they team up and start working on a way to bring down Red Rock altogether. And Brit comes to terms with some of the genuine issues in her own life. Sisters in Sanity totally understands girls, the way they think and talk and see life--it's so smart, funny and cool, and the way the girls deal with their situation is so brilliant, I don't want to say anymore for fear of giving too much away. You won't be able to stop reading until you find out what happens. I promise. This is a terrific book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2012


    Best. Book. Ever.
    I cryed. I laughed. I felt more feelings than in a while
    Please read, you wont regret it (12 and up)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 29, 2012

    See more of my reviews on my blog Thoughts At One In The Morning

    See more of my reviews on my blog Thoughts At One In The Morning.

    Many readers are probably more familiar with Gayle’s “If I Stay” (especially with the sequel recently released). It was due to knowing of them that I stumbled across this when filling up a cart on Amazon. The premise is about a girl being sent away to a center for rebellious teens by her father.

    That girl is Brit Hemphill, 16 years old with magenta and black hair and tattoos. She’s in a band (Clod) with friends Denise, Erik, and Jed, the guy she’s in love with. The book opens with her trip to Red Rock Academy, disguised as a family trip to the Grand Canyon by her dad. In the first few weeks she has an attitude, but Virginia (or V, as she prefers to be called) helps her get started off right. She makes three other friends, Bebe, Martha, and Cassie, and the five of them together keep each other sane.

    The rules at Red Rock are very strict. You’re given “levels” numbered 1-6, one being the lowest and six being highest. There’s hardly any contact with people outside, and when you can it’s limited to family only. They will withhold things from you unless you do what you’re told to do. You get level upgrades for telling them what they want to hear. Basically, the place isn’t a legitimate institution, it’s just taking money from overly concerned parents. Of course, the parents don’t realize this, the truth is always hidden when there are visitors, not to mention they’re warned to not listen to the complaints of their child (since they’re child is out of control and not to be trusted).

    While it seems to be difficult to abide by the rules, there are ways around them, like to write and receive letters from non-family. There’s also a way to sneak out briefly at night. As the months go by, the girls grow closer. Brit is even able to keep in contact with Jed and her band.

    Then somebody gets caught breaking a rule and dynamics change. The girls attempt to stay right but it gets harder. When one of them ends up in the hospital thanks to the negligence of Red Rock, Brit reaches a breaking point. At that moment she makes it her resolve to shut Red Rock down.

    I will not say any more as to what happens in the end. You will not be disappointed as you take on Brit’s journey.

    My Rating:

    Very Good: Stay up late

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Most Read

    Most read, because not all boot camps are safe.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2008

    The train wreck you have to look at. . .

    For anyone who has ever watched the ¿My Teen is Out of Control¿ on Maury or Jerry Springer or any of those talk shows, or for anyone who has cheered as the obnoxious teen was sent to boot camp, this is a story that will provoke mixed emotions. Brit Hemphill hates her ¿Stepmonster.¿ When it is determined that the magenta stripe in her hair, tattoos, and odd hours (playing with a local band) are too rebellious for a sixteen year old girl, her dad trundles her off to Red Rock, a boot camp for girls under the pretext of a family vacation to the Grand Canyon. In what appears to be a fairly accurate expose of many of these kinds of operations, Ms. Forman weaves a tale of four teenage girls who beat the system and get the school closed down. Northwestern teens will appreciate the setting of Portland, Oregon, but probably won¿t recognize a lot of landmarks. The prose is good, and the emotion is believable as Brit narrates her experiences. It¿s a worthwhile story, but is liable to pander to students who cast themselves in the role of misunderstood misfit rather than spoiled brat. In the end, the solidarity of the young women as well as the ups and downs of their friendship within an unusual setting make this a book worth reading. This title might also provide an interesting discussion within the context of psychology or sociology settings.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2007

    Awesome book everyone...

    The story SISTERS IN SANITY tells the story about a group of girls who when sent to Red Rock a ¿behavior modification boot camp¿ form a club called Sisters In Sanity. The friendship formed in the group is the only thing that can help the girls to keep them from going insane in a facility that very much resembles an asylum. Fortunately waiting to see when they will be released is not an option for the Sisters in Sanity. Wow, an eye-opener, and romantic are the only words that come to mind when reading this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted June 13, 2011

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    Posted November 4, 2010

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    Posted December 27, 2011

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    Posted August 16, 2009

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    Posted September 14, 2013

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    Posted January 24, 2010

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    Posted October 3, 2009

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