An often hilarious and astute, if overlong, satire.



A debut comic novel that parodies the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the public school system. 

After finishing a graduate school degree program in law and business at Eastern Oregon University, Greg Samson finds himself without any promising employment prospects. However, his best friend, Randy Smith, is the athletic director at Shadowcliff High School in Sweetwater, Arizona, and he helps him find a job as a track coach there. Greg also ends up teaching English and video-production classes and becomes the supervisor for both the yearbook and the business education program. He quickly learns that the world of public education is a well-intentioned but self-destructively incompetent one, full of bureaucratic absurdity. The school’s principal, Connie Rumsford, seems committed to fostering a culture of “compliance and submission,” treating students and their parents as clients to be indulged at the expense of real education. Rumsford also obsessively quotes “master teacher” Elden Ray Fong on issues from pedagogy to sound sleeping habits—a reflection of the fashionable obsession with academic theory. Greg is largely a cheerful idealist and manages to become an effective teacher, but he finds that real progress is thwarted at every turn; he works inside a system that’s designed to produce a veneer of success—one that’s measurable in quantitative terms but ignores actual learning. Debut author Prather has a real talent for comedic writing, and he possesses a deep knowledge of the obstacles that public education faces today, including those created by overzealous parents. At one point, for example, Rumsford refuses to let Greg fail a student for cheating for fear of legal action from the teen’s father and even demands that Greg write the offending student a letter of apology. Prather is clearly influenced by Franz Kafka’s work—Greg’s name, for example, is obviously inspired by that of the main character of The Metamorphosis, and he teaches Kafka to his Advanced Placement students—and he follows that author’s footsteps in ably lampooning technocratic hubris. Problematically, though, his wonderfully rich characters aren’t provided much of a plot; instead, the story meanders somewhat aimlessly at far too great a length.

An often hilarious and astute, if overlong, satire.

Pub Date: June 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5332-0202-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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