Take one class of seemingly ordinary sixth-graders in a rundown school just outside a North Carolina military base, add a new teacher with a love for both improvisational theater and a big brother stationed in Afghanistan, then truck in a shy new student whose single mom has just been dispatched to Iraq. The result is the most buoyant example of ensemble work since E. L. Konigsburg’s The View from Saturday (1996) and the best of Gregory Maguire’s Hamlet Chronicles. Bringing Second City techniques to classroom instruction, Miss Loupe wins over her initially reluctant students so thoroughly that when devastating news comes that her brother has gone missing, the young folk band together in an effort to give something back—not just to Miss Loupe, but to all who are or have loved ones in the armed forces. The result? A triumphant performance that puts on display not only a diverse array of individual talents, but no fewer than 100,000 little plastic soldiers. Flicking among points of view with increasing speed, Holmes tracks the blossoming of Bo Whaley, an often-in-trouble kinetic learner who takes to improv like a duck to water; his just-arrived cousin Gari (who will without doubt grow up to be a professional campaign manager); and a supporting cast of gently caricatured classmates, parents, and faculty. Though only a small part is actually written as a script, the entire tale is purest stagecraft: quick, funny, sad, full of heart, and irresistibly absorbing. For another modern-day homefront story, see the starred review of Julia Keller’s Back Home.— John Peters
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Hug a Library Today
I know other authors eat starred reviews for breakfast. But this is my first ever. And it's from the American Library Association, who made it possible for me to be a writer in the first place, by supporting the place where as a child, I checked out and read my weight in library books each week. (Okay, MORE than my weight, probably. No one ever actually used a scale. If I could carry them up the winding steps from the children's room and out the front door of the Lawson McGhee Public Library in Knoxville, TN, I was golden.)
In this era of tough choices, when more and more libraries and librarians are struggling for funding and their proper place at the heart of every community, I would like say: Libraries and librarians change lives. They changed me. I'm forever grateful.