Author: Anisha Lakhani
Reading Level: HS/Adults
I read this after hearing lots and reading quite a few reviews about the book, so I am not entirely sure about my reactions – how much was my enjoyment and annoyance colored by these preset expectations? And how much of my secret pleasure and overt disgust came from my having known the author and has been working in the school that this fiction is supposed to be based on? So read on, those of you who are curious to know my opinions about the book, with caution and many grains of salt!
First, I was surprised how the book does not really feature many recognizable students and faculty from the school, nor does it develop the school as a setting fully. In fact, most teachers do not even enter the story. It’s as if this fictional K-12 school has but 50 students and they all go to the 7th grade and there are only half a dozen teachers who come into contact with the protagonist and the children. In short, the setting of the school is not quite fleshed out or rich, and the supporting characters are not 3-dimensional, either. A few incidents or coincidences are probably not identifiable by those who are not intimately connected to the school, either. So much, so much of the story is extremely exaggerated: the characters complete caricatures, and the whole world distorted with the kind of hyper-reality one can only find in Gossip Girls and Sex in the City. (Of course also in the highly manipulated Real Housewives “reality” shows…)
This brings me to say to those who seem to think that this is a truthful portrayal of the Manhattan Private Schools/Ivy League Feeders world, “You are absolutely wrong.” This is fluffy fiction and no more than that.
I don’t think there is even a need to defend my school since there is so little resemblance in SCHOOLED to the actual school — including the physical descriptions and the ways teaching and learning are accomplished throughout the years. Suffice to say that I have encountered scores of most brilliant human beings: readers, writers, thinkers, activists, artists, mathematicians, scientists, all kinds of people — both from its faculty pool and the student body, to feel privileged and proud to be part of this incredible institution.
The biggest weakness of the book, to my eyes, is how bland the writing is… with few exceptions where the lines are actually funny or effective, such as, “The world could be coming to an end and my mother would still find a way to offer a cookie with the gas mask.” and “It was an all-purpose word, something of a Swiss Army knife capable of replacing all sorts of words, such as do, write, create, and especially finish.” The rest of the book is filled with lines with little crafting or “polishing”. Just a few examples here:
page 124: Anna wonders “if Shakespeare would be … delighted that his work was the cause of such delight to a group of… seventh-graders.”
page 126: “The last comment was like a wound in my heart.”
page 131: “And I was an air traffic controller trying to control fifteen little planes all trying to land at one time.”
To compound the problem of such thin prose is the poor editing. Missing punctuation marks, continuity errors, and misused words, such as “My ears were ringing. And when did faux mitzvah enter everyone’s vocabulary accept mine?” ACCEPT? And this is supposedly written/narrated by an Ivy-Leaguer who studied English in college and teaches English to 7th graders.
The one saving grace is that the readers do not admire Anna (oh, maybe a little bit toward the end of the story when she suddenly has a courageous enlightment moment), and that adds some flavor to the tale of a small fry lost in the world of greasy glitz.
And chatting online with a High School student might shed more light on our views over this book:
Edited for clarity:
fairrosa: Yup… I guess… closer to truth. Nothing is TRUE in this book, though. And it’s so hyper-reality that anyone thinks this has anything to do with reality is delusional themselves, I think.
student: You overestimate that, I think
fairrosa: overestimate how?
student: I think you overestimate how attuned the average reader is to Dalton
fairrosa: Definitely — that’s why I definitely need to write about how this is NOT the reality. But I did like the book enough… it’s better than some other trashy novels, for sure.
student: Wha? O.o
fairrosa: All the flaws aside, Anna Taggert is a main character that does not put on a holier-than-thou air, nor is she pretending to be anything but a corrupted small fry lost in a glitzy world, even though in reality, I have yet to encounter any such real-life teacher.
fairrosa: That’s my last paragraph…now.. do you think my analysis fair?? any other issues with the review?
student: Doesn’t put on a holier-than-thou air? I really don’t think you read this book XD
fairrosa: please let me know if I can post it as is?
student: It’s an okay-written review, it’s just wrong. It didn’t bother you that characters spent the whole time hitting on her? That, somehow, nothing was ever actually her fault?
fairrosa: Hey.. .Anna Taggert is portrayed as a silly, money grabbing, totally lost person. There is nothing there to show that she is better than anyone else…
Everything is her choice — she decided that she needed MONEY … she failed to plan lessons — she is stupid…The character is NOT portrayed as a GOOD person. Did you read the book?
fairrosa: One does not read the book and says to oneself that Anna Tagger is SUCH A GOOD person. Does one?
stuent: No, but she thinks she is!
fairrosa: But the READER knows that she is stupid, spoiled, greedy…etc. and the AUTHOR writes in that way…
fairrosa: she curses. she envies. she receives bribes. she cheats
student: Mmm, yes. But do you really think the point of the book is that she’s bad, or that she was a good person placed in a bad system?
fairrosa: I think she was WEAK… maybe Bad/Good is not a great way to describe her or anyone else.
fairrosa: I think she did not really have moral fibers… of course, the world around her doesn’t seem to have morals either…
student: She’s portrayed as a nice girl corrupted by an evil world. Yes?
fairrosa: Nah… I don’t think she’s portrayed as a “nice girl” ever — her motive of being a teacher is so that she would be LOVED by her students…So, I never got the sense that the protagonist is supposed to be a GOOD person.
student: Not that she would really teach or change students’ lives.
student: That’s absolutely false.
fairrosa: Did you find any of the book funny?
fairrosa: Or are you just completely incensed?
fairrosa: Do you think it’s because you’re too close to it? Too protective of our school?
student: I think I might have been okay with it – or at least, not hated it – had it been marketed differently, had it not billed itself as that “look at what a 5-figure tuition really gets you”