Review – A Good School by Richard Yates.

48340It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book. As most of you may know, I’ve set myself a “challenge” of reading the Century Trilogy back to back. Well, I think that may have been a mistake. I am currently on the second book, and whilst I do really like it, I find myself only being able to read small chunks at a time. Now, this may have more to do with me starting substitute teaching and being exhausted every day, but I also believe there may be a psychological aspect due to the “challenge” aspect that I set myself. I decided to try and remedy this by reading something completely different.
To make my lunch breaks in the day a little more interesting, I took a short (about 250 pages) book to read. This book is by one of my favourite authors, so I knew I’d enjoy it. Richard Yates’ ‘A Good School’ is often described as the 70’s version of The Catcher in the Rye. I tend to disagree with this statement; Catcher in the Rye focuses on teenage rebellion in a society that is blatantly against the main character. A Good School focuses more on a society that is providing everything for the main characters, at least on a surface level.
The plot revolves around a group of adolescent school boys in a private prep school somewhere in Connecticut (most of Yates’ novels are set here and it is funny as I live here also, I can both what he is saying, and the complete opposite end of the spectrum!) that endeavors to churn out the best of the best in terms of future success stories. However, the plot spends an equal amount of time looking at the lives of the teaching faculty of the school – for they too are both entrenched and disenfranchised by the idea of this “good school”.
What I love about Yates is that he isn’t afraid of showing a broad emotional spectrum; pride, greed, vulnerability, anger, passion, and many other emotional states are portrayed in this short novel. With Yates, it may seem that he is all about doom and gloom, but really, he is about realism. These things happen every day, these emotions get felt every day, these consequences happen every day. There is no writing for the sake of shock value with Yates – everything is genuine and realistic.
Yates wrote this book in the 1970’s, but set it in the early 1940’s. This ability to set a story in a time in which it applies perfectly, and yet have it also apply to the time in which it is published, is ingenious. For a short novel, it really does pack quite the punch. If you find yourself wanting a short read, but also a read with substance, I really cannot recommend this enough.
~ Pegasus.
A Good School: A Novel

Review: Crazy by Han Nolan

20131230-191409.jpgYoung adult book about teen drama-check. Mental illness as the main focus-check. Been there, done that, right? Except this one is insanely (bad choice of words, I know) different. In this refreshingly unique novel the tables are turned and this time it’s a child who has to cope with his parent’s mental illness.

Jason can’t remember a time when his life wasn’t overshadowed by his dad’s odd behavior. Going as far back as age six when his dad tried to bury him alive “to protect him”, it’s always been a part of their lives. However, when Jason’s mom dies unexpectedly things begin to rapidly deteriorate. She was the one who always held things together, and without her their lives start to spin out of control. Money is tight, food is scarce, and their house is falling apart. Despite his best efforts to hold things together and keep their way of life a secret, his grades and behavior at school are being affected. When he’s sent to group therapy, he finds comfort in an unlikely group of friends who are living with family issues of their own. In a short span of time he’s forced to confront his own feelings of grief at his mother’s death, guilt at not being able to protect his dad, and fear that he, too, is losing his mind. He has to learn to accept help from others and to be a kid again after being the adult in his family for so long. There’s a hospitalization and a confrontation with social services before everything is finally resolved. Along the way, Jason is kept company by running commentary from a cast of characters he has created in his mind to help him cope with his dysfunctional life.

This was an amazing story from beginning to end. It could have been another run-of-the-mill story of teen angst and drama but Han Nolan inserts humor and emotion into every page. The ever-present conversation going on in Jason’s head has the potential to be annoying and distracting but instead is entirely believable, and you can see how that’s his one little lifeline to sanity. He’s never really confronted his grief at losing his mother, and he eventually realizes he harbors a lot of anger as well for being forced into the position he’s in. The author skillfully captures the voice of a young teenage boy in the reversed role of being the parent. It’s also a safe read for teenagers without speaking down to them, which is hard to come by these days. Five stars for me!

~Thalia

Buy it Now: Crazy