Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Book #22: Ms. Hempel Chronicles

Ms. Hempel Chronicles was written by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, a recent National Book Award finalist and a new master of the short story. Ms. Hempel Chronicles fits neatly into that oeuvre: all of the chapters in the book could be (and many have been) stand-alone short stories, all featuring the enigmatically mediocre Ms. Hempel, seventh grade teacher. Each chapter offers Ms. Hempel's musings on a particular topic or event that she is confronting: a school trip to the beach, a school talent show, visiting her childhood home. And Ms. Hempel always has interesting observations of and insights on these mundane goings-on, making the book a joy to read at a leisurely pace.

I was really drawn to the character Beatrice Hempel; while I don't necessarily agree with her, I found her strong perspective on the world around her very stimulating. The whole book was really like an opportunity to get inside someone else's head for a few days and really immerse oneself in that other person's thoughts. The writing, too, is exquisite, with a plethora of extremely well-turned phrases. Perhaps my favorite parts of the book, however, were the glimpses Ms. Hempel gives of her students through her own eyes--their quirks, their potential, and their burdens alike, all remarkable and unique. I'd suggest this book to anyone who enjoys short stories or realistic fiction about teachers.

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