Wednesday, October 01, 2008

New Release Spotlight: Schooled

by Anisha Lakhani

The year 2008 is a tough one for teachers-turned-writers trying to shock other adults about the “secret” lives of teenagers. We may have missed the books it was based on, but it’s been difficult not to notice Gossip Girl the television show. Manhattan teens attending prep schools can be rich and rotten? Sometimes they pay for good grades, sleep around, emotionally abuse each other, and take Ritalin like candy? Even teachers get swept away by the society-in-a-bubble they spend most of their waking hours in? Yeah, Cecily von Ziegesa’s hair tossers and back stabbers taught us that already—and more graphically than Anisha Lakhani’s fictional account of her teaching days.

Readers won’t be amazed by Lakhani’s teen characters so much as they will be that her alter ego, Anna, a woman barely one generation removed from her students and who grew up near New York and attended Columbia, is so shocked. That said, Schooled is fun reading for this time of year, when the crisp fall air sounds like cracking textbook spines and reminds one wistfully that summer really is gone for another year.

Anna’s first job out of college is teaching junior high English to a class of, except for one brief exception, wealthy and spoiled kids who have wealthy and spoiled parents and cowing teachers and administration. Despite showing off a facade of glamour—amazing resources, a gourmet cafeteria, and new laptops for every teacher to keep as her own—the school soon shows its true colors, and Anna finds not her intelligence, leadership ability, or organizational skills challenged but her very ethics and morals. Sprinkled generously with chitchat about designer clothes, elegant lunches, and fantastical parties (turns out there is a segment of our society that really does get to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory), the story juicily slides along—that final sweet drop of nectar that the reader taps out of the stem dimple in her cocktail glass.

Lakhani isn’t always kind to Anna—the character readily narrates that she’s aware of, and just doesn’t care about, many of the negative choices she begins to make—but her writing is careful enough that the reader won’t ultimately turn on Anna and stop identifying with her.

Of course, the bigger point that readers may be left thinking about is that our education system isn’t just slippery for rich Manhanttanites, or for other Americans living off gold-paved streets. Students from all ilk can whine, cheat, lie, and show up hungover—why didn’t the college teachers of Anna, and by assumed extension Lakhani, teach her to anticipate and to successfully deal with that?

Review by Kristin Thiel, Indigo Editing & Publications, LLC

ISBN: 978-1-401322-87-8
Publisher: Hyperion
Pub Date: August 2008
Hardcover: $23.95

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