"A Candle Loses Nothing By Lighting Another Candle" - Father James Keller

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My Review of "This Business of Children" by Chloe JonPaul

Vera Harriss, Deidre Fletcher, Mark Pettingill, and Stu Martel are elementary school teachers in the fictional town of Blevins, Maine whose secret, private lives change dramatically as you read. Vera, who is about to retire, vents her anger during a Board of Education meeting with a speech that brings the audience to its feet. Why does Deidre, an exceptional teacher, leave the job she loves to become a corporate trainer down South? Then there is Mark, the perennial job hunter looking for a corporate position with more prestige and pay but then turns down the perfect offer when it finally comes through. Stu, one of the most popular teachers in the school, struggles with a deep, dark secret that he can only share with Deidre. What causes Stu's untimely death? Vera Harriss, Dee Fletcher, Mark Pettingill, and Stu Martel are eager to share their intriguing secrets and entangled lives with you.

My Review:
Even with changes in POV, this story read more like a memoir. The writing was very consise, focused and detailed, especially at first, when the novel seemed to focus more on teaching. Having once been a teacher myself, and having been married to a teacher for the last sixteen years, I enjoyed the story, even though sometimes the plot got bogged down in too many teaching details like lessons, paperwork – which is telling of the life, but I still thought the first half of the story could have benefited from a few more teacher lounge scenes, more personal dialogue and such. The teacher’s frustrations come through right away, but inter-personal conflicts trickle in.

This all changes about seventy pages in. The personal stories start about then. The characters start interacting outside of school, and the action sort of picks up. I liked getting to know them, how their jobs defined them and what they thought of themselves. Teaching is truly a job that you take home with you in many ways. There were many poignant moments in this story.

All that said, I felt the story had a very relevant message about our educational system. Universal issues were touched on like class size, duties outside of teaching, restructuring school systems, etc. On top of that, a reader gets to see the struggle of how much a teacher can risk their job by speaking up to better the system, how sometimes fighting for what is best for the children has to be silenced if a teacher wants to stay teaching said children.

Great summer read for teachers or anyone who wants to know more about how our education system works behind the scenes.  

Inspiration for This Novel written by Chloe JonPaul

In 1991, I took a leave of absence from my teaching position after a very troubling year at the school where I was assigned.  To safeguard my sanity (smile), I decided that it would be best to take some time and re-group so I went back to Maine.  My dear friend Helene invited me to stay at her home.

Lewiston, Maine was the place where I had done the best and most creative teaching in my entire career.

It wasn’t too long after my arrival that I began musing about the possibility of writing a novel.  Before I knew it, these four characters emerged almost out of the blue.  They weren’t any of the teachers I had known – possibly a composite of people I had known in the many places I had taught over the years.  I must admit, however, that there is a bit of me in both Deidre Fletcher and Vera Harriss.

I wanted the setting to be in Maine but I didn’t want to name any particular town or city so I named the town Blevins.  The story is also a reflection in some way of my own union activism as a teacher.

The greatest inspiration for the novel, I feel, is having worked beside so many wonderful teachers who DO make a difference in the lives of the children they teach.  I want to acquaint the world with the struggles they face professionally while having to deal with the demons in their own lives.

My  teachers and my high school principal  inspired me to be the best that I could possibly be and so  the dedication in this book reads:

To the special teachers in my life who inspired me with their wisdom, spirituality, and elegance.
                            Margery Harriss
                            Marguerite Zouck
                            Eunice Shay
                            Mother Colombina, MPF

I actually trashed the novel after I had written it but my friend retrieved it saying, 
“You are NOT throwing this away!”  I stashed it away and really didn’t think about it much until last year when I began seeing so much in the news about the problems in education.  What topped it for me was reading about the teacher who committed suicide in Bethlehem, PA after being accused of molesting a student.  We also had the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.  I thought, “Wow!  That’s all in my book!”  So I pulled the manuscript out once more…and the rest is history.

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In accordance with the new FTC Guidelines for blogging and endorsements, Kiki Howell of An Author's Musings, would like to advise that in addition to purchasing my own books to review, I also receive books, and/or promotional materials, free of charge in return for an honest review, as do any guest reviewers.