FAILING MR. FISHER

Based on his experience as an educator and on the anecdotes of colleagues, Wintermote explores the trials and tribulations of the first five years of teaching in his debut novel.  

Jim Fisher is embarking on his third career as an English teacher at the newly built Manicomio High School. On his first day, the tone for the next five years is set as Mr. Fisher must contend with a student drinking beer in class while others mouth off, call him "dude" and come to class unprepared. It is clear from the outset the author has enough familiarity with his subject to authentically capture the experiences of a novice teacher. The novel is filled with incidents that seem unbelievable, yet one has no doubt they either happened to Wintermote himself or someone he knew. When a cocky star wrestler fails to do the work on an assignment, his parents only make excuses for their son, and unwilling Fisher lets the boy make up the presentation. But he makes it clear that lying for their son and not holding him accountable for his actions is more detrimental to him than not being able to wrestle. The idea that parents are as responsible for the failings of their children as much as the children themselves is prevalent throughout. It is clear that Wintermote sees a lot wrong with the educational system. From the lowering of standards to ineffective administrators, the author uses this novel as a soapbox. While one may agree with his assessments, the novel would feel more rounded if it included a deeper exploration of Fisher’s personal life. The chapters spent on his failed relationship with a fellow teacher and his courtship of an unavailable neighbor add depth and complexity to Fisher’s character. In the classroom, Fisher never fails to get the upper hand on a student and rarely feels like he did not make the right choice in any given situation. In his fifth year of teaching, a new administrator, intent on making it easier for students to do the bare minimum to pass, may lead to the end of Fisher’s tenure at Manicomio High. An in-depth, yet underdeveloped, look at the life of an educator struggling against unwilling students and falling standards to teach the best he can. 

 

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2010

ISBN: 978-1449068974

Page Count: 348

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: March 26, 2012

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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