Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mrs. Scribe Reviews: Hummingbirds

I wanted to like this book. I really did.

Hummingbirds, by Joshua Gaylord, created a buzz in my teacher's soul. On the surface, the freshman novelist seems to have written a roman à clef ~ a true-life story hiding behind a façade of fiction. Gaylord, you see, teaches high school English at an East Side prep school in New York; Gaylord's protagonist, Leo Binhammer, does the same.

It is there, Dear Readers, that I hope the similarities end. The novel's characters ~ students and teachers at the "exclusive" Carmine-Casey School for Girls (an East Side NYC enclave) ~ weave an intricate web of relationships so interdependent that they occasionally become downright creepy.

Dixie Doyle, Gaylord's alpha-female, is spoiled and self-centered, as only these types of young women can be. But unlike the "popular" girls at Our Humble High School, where I teach, Dixie is pretty static, and under Gaylord's control, comes off as a one-dimensional nitwit. Dixie's nemesis, Liz Warren, is a cliché from the get-go. The "brainy" Liz earns A's on her papers but not much warmth in my head nor my heart.

The dual protagonists in this novel ~ English teachers Binhammer and Ted Hughes (named, on purpose I suppose, after the tragic poet Sylvia Plath's misogynist husband) ~ not only teach their protégés, but apparently lust after them, as well. I have to admit that after I read the author's take on Binhammer's Coed Naked classroom fantasies (my characterization, not his), I had to put the book down for a good long while.

Not all is lost, however, if you read this novel. Gaylord does have a way with words. I have to say that I enjoyed the lilt of the author's prose. I hope, though, that his next effort can reach a little bit farther. Texture, I've always believed, can heal the fractures that sometimes develop in a work of fiction.

I've often thought that I could turn my 16 years in a high school classroom into some kind of a book ~ a novel, a collection of essays, a what have you. There's so much raw material in this microcosm of the "real world" that I believe even the Mean Girls who roam our halls could garner the reader's sympathy. I'm a little sad, then, that this hasn't happened in Hummingbirds.

Yes, I realize high school ~ and all the attendant characters therein ~ is a stereotype unto itself. Those who rule the school are often at the apex of their lives ~ in other words, it's all downhill from senior year on out. And we always root for the smart nerds to win. But a secondary education is so much more than that ~ a social petri dish that is just waiting to grow some fascinating characters. With Hummingbirds, I'm afraid that hasn't happened.


June Freaking Cleaver said...

So you WOULDN'T want to review books?

You just did, and handily, I might add.

The coed naked part would probably cause me to quit reading - now I'll wonder if all the male HS teachers are having fantasies about the girls (and guys)...eww.

The Blonde Duck said...

What a shame it wasn't that good!

Emily said...

I think the job that you don't want to do is be the teachers in the book, right?

Anyway, I feel like I first grader writing book reviews now that I have read yours. You write beautifully!

k.s.b. said...

Speaking of Ted Hughes, I heard this on the radio this morning--

Heather J. @ TLC Books said...

I'm sorry that this book didn't work out so well for you, but I appreciate that you explained the reasons so clearly. Hopefully the next book you pick up will be a better fit. :)

Karen & Gerard Zemek said...

Stopping by from writer's workshop. I didn't realize you do book reviews on your blog. This one doesn't sound like one I would like either.

I did this prompt too. Here's the link if you get a chance to visit:

Mari said...

Sorry you didn't love this one - I wonder if teaching and being in a HS daily caused some of the dislike.

I didn't mind Dixie and her flaws. In the end we started to learn that there was so much more to her (her family life isn't the best).

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