Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kirkus Discoveries Review

Teachers finish last in this wickedly funny satire set at a public middle school in Georgia. At Vilyon Middle School—Home of the Valiant—administrators, students, parents and even the custodians ride roughshod over educators. As the school year begins, Principal Marsh waxes eloquent via loudspeaker about the joys of VMS, then demoralizes staff with a “teachers-should-never-sit-down” policy. Due to a budget crisis, funds aren’t available for teacher-appreciation day, but Marsh somehow finds $50,000 to pay bestselling authors to lecture at the school on love and discipline. Parents dictate what grades their children should receive and, if a teacher won’t play ball, they play the race card. At the front office, administrative employees confiscate brownies left as a gift for a teacher.

Students fight in the cafeteria and graffiti restroom walls with soap and maxi-pads. In group meetings, teachers are encouraged to ask for help but are emotionally pummeled for even the smallest request. One printer cartridge and one ream of copy paper must last each teacher the entire school year—not to worry, they can buy supplies out of pocket at cost. They’re also required to find their own substitutes or show up for work, no matter how incapacitated they are.

The author is wonderful at creating situations and moving the plot forward via e-mail, school announcements and the occasional conversation, navigating easily between the hilarious and the tragic. Characterizations are spot-on despite minimal description of individuals or setting. It all rings true until the final plot twist when the author slightly overplays a nearly perfect hand. Bitter broth for the soul, for teachers left behind in the American school system.

--Kirkus Discoveries