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: The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle

20140101-075407.jpgIt’s easy enough to write about difficult topics, especially if it’s fiction. Child abuse, incest, murder, school shootings…they’ve all been covered at one time or another with varying degrees of success. But to be able to do so in a way that doesn’t make the reader cringe and push the book aside is no easy feat. Kristina Riggle has done just that with this intriguing novel.

The story centers on the inappropriate relationship between seventeen-year-old Morgan and her math teacher, TJ Hill. Morgan has always been considered mature for her age and seems wise beyond her years. A gifted musician who also writes poetry, she finds herself tiring of the usual teenage drama all around her. A beautiful young woman,she’s nonetheless extremely self-conscious about a scar on her face resulting from a childhood injury. TJ is one of the most popular teachers at the high school. He has an easy rapport with his students. He’s also under a huge amount of stress at home as he and his wife, Rain, continue a barrage of medical treatments as they attempt to conceive a child. Morgan provides a shoulder for him to lean on as he deals with this pressure. She, in turn, thrives on the attention from a wise, mature older man. When their relationship is discovered and charges are filed, Morgan finds herself sitting opposite her parents in the courtroom as she defends the man she believes to be the love of her life. The question is, was Morgan the victim of a manipulative older man or is she a delusional teenager obsessed with her teacher?

If these were the only two characters in this story it would still be a winner. But the author has added a cast of supporting characters that provide enough of a story on their own. There’s Joe, Morgan’s gruff but loving father who just also happens to be the assistant principal at the high school. Dinah, Morgan’s mother, thrives on being involved in her children’s lives but also runs a successful, popular coffee hangout for the local teens. At the same time, she must stay on top of Morgan’s younger twin brothers, Jared and Connor who suffer academic and behavior issues as a result of a difficult birth. And of course there’s Rain, TJ’s supportive but unsuspecting wife who bears a striking resemblance to Morgan.

A story with this many characters always has the potential for being a big confusing mess. Not in this case. Riggle successfully ties everything in to the main storyline while at the same time keeping the reader’s interest spread all around. The story alternates between Morgan, TJ, and to a lesser degree Rain while at the same time keeping us interested in what’s going on with everyone else. As I read this book, I found myself connected to all of the characters, not just Morgan and TJ. There’s no question that this type of relationship is never appropriate, regardless of the student’s age. Those in such positions of power bear a huge responsibility for staying within the boundaries. This story deals with the legalities and morality of such a situation while at the same time showing how other friends and family members are affected. Five stars for me!

~Thalia

Buy it Now: The Whole Golden World