Our book was Ms. Hempel Chronicles, by, steady now, deep breath, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum.
This petit little novel scored a 7. The story comprises a series of vignettes, not in chronological order, from the life of elementary school teacher "Ms. Hempel." Clearly SSLB is a talented writer. She dips in and out of Ms. Hempel's psyche, rendering the emotions so clearly that the reader almost experiences them for herself, whether it's the rush of an unexpected kiss, or the sinking dread of watching children play a dangerous game that could lead to disaster. The prose was well-chosen: delicate, sensitive and interesting with a touch of humor. Those who liked this book thought it was whimsical and full of charming discoveries throughout--like realizing more than half way through that Ms. Hempel is part Asian, or being suddenly deflated to find out, in hindsight, that her engagement broke off. It also was fun to reminisce and put into context just how young some of our teachers were (mere kids in their 20's!) although at the time, of course, we never would have thought of it that way. On the other hand, there was a tinge of sadness in this book that some of us found depressing. For example, how Ms. Hempel grew up being told by her father how extraordinary she was--but then wasn't after all-- or how her love life became so misdirected. The other comment that came up, once again, is that the story didn't go anywhere and was too random. It's time (although with El Jefe's vision into the future she can tell it won't be next month!) for a good meaty, linear novel that tells a story start to finish with characters you can sink your teeth into. Let's beef up that list o' death!
Until next time, read early and often! xoej