This third installment of a series maintains the author’s satirical take on modern American suburban life while dealing with some serious societal problems.
The Shady Park characters return, with Nicole Ernst taking the starring role in this volume. Nicole is the seventh grade teacher who was accidentally shot at an open school board meeting convened to overturn its unfortunate decision to switch to fundamentalist textbooks. She also got into serious trouble when she discovered that Chelsea Grosbeck, the daughter of a wealthy real estate developer, had plagiarized her school essay. Now 37-year-old Nicole has been transferred to Northbrook High School, where she is teaching a group of generally disinterested, ill-informed teenagers. It doesn’t take long for her to run afoul of her new boss, Principal Matthew Higgenbottom, who has been dragging his feet authorizing delivery of the nonfundamentalist books ordered by the board. Nicole makes an end run around Higgenbottom, and the volumes suddenly arrive. But more trouble is on the way. Fifteen-year-old student Juan Moreno begins receiving unsolicited naked photographs on his cellphone from an eighth-grade girl, and suddenly Shady Park becomes engulfed in a sexting scandal. When one of these photos is sent to Nicole’s cellphone, she is drawn into a dangerous undercover police operation. Simultaneously, she becomes romantically involved with Ralph Novich, the relationship-shy editor of the Shady Park Ledger, whose wife left him for her Virginia-based true love: her first cousin. Keech’s (Shady Park Panic, 2018, etc.) narrative rests somewhere between Oscar Wilde and Desperate Housewives. From ostentatious McMansions to crooked politicians and religious zealots, little escapes the author’s sharp eye for hypocrisy and amusing excess. Here Keech describes Nicole feeding her cat: She “stopped by to serve Smokey some Cod, Sole, and Shrimp Paté in Florentine Sauce.” There are strange characters aplenty. Chief among them is Andre Smyth, a tenderhearted neurotic who can’t answer a simple question in less than a tangents-filled paragraph. Despite the quirky cast and more than a hint of melodrama, the author uses well-directed sarcasm to highlight some critical, real-world issues: anti-immigration fervor, anti-science mania, and child pornography. In addition, readers should find the story’s conclusion satisfying.
An enjoyable beach read with a likable heroine.