Alt Ed by Catherine Atkins, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Alt Ed

Alt Ed

4.4 12
by Catherine Atkins

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Susan Calloway, bullied and overweight, faces daily humiliation at the hands of her classmates-and she's had enough. With her anger about to reach the boiling point, Susan lands in an alternative education class, a sort of group therapy for the nearly expelled. School is bad enough, but facing off with five peers, including her cruelest tormentor, is worse. Now


Susan Calloway, bullied and overweight, faces daily humiliation at the hands of her classmates-and she's had enough. With her anger about to reach the boiling point, Susan lands in an alternative education class, a sort of group therapy for the nearly expelled. School is bad enough, but facing off with five peers, including her cruelest tormentor, is worse. Now Susan is being forced to do something she's always avoided-talk about herself and listen to what other people have to say about her. She has two choices: find her voice, or be prepared to take the insults in silence. It won't be easy, but alt ed may be just the last resort Susan needs.

'Carefully nuanced connections between characters plus insight into the adolescent ability to use low self-esteem as a cruel weapon catapults Atkins's novel of troubled teens well above the familiarity of its trappings. Each of Atkins's characters emerges, fully formed from these pages.'
-Publishers Weekly, starred review

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Carefully nuanced connections between characters plus insight into the adolescent ability to use low self-esteem as a cruel weapon catapults Atkins's novel of troubled teens well above the familiarity of its trappings.  Each of Atkins's characters emerges, fully formed from these pages."—Publishers Weekly
Diane Tuccillo

Susan Callahan is overweight and constantly tormented at Wayne High. When she witnesses Brendan, a gay classmate who has been subjected to similar treatment, trashing the prized truck of a campus bully, she eggs him on.  Both are caught, and Susan shares the blame. They find themselves in required after-school counseling with four other teens in trouble. Kyle, the owner of the truck; Randy, a handsome jock; Amber, a girl with a bad reputation and a soft heart; and Tracee, a cheerleader with religious convictions. Susan is terrified to participate, and the others balk.  Guidance counselor-instructor Mr. Duffy, however, encourages them to open up, allowing extremely frank and sometimes coarse discussions, revelations, and language. Amber, for example, divulges her drunken party experience being sexually used by multiple boys. There are no group ground rules except to keep class confidentiality. Eventually, the group reveals the reasons they were forced to attend the class, and they change for the better. Susan decides to dress more attractively, get exercise and lose some weight, become friends with Brendan, and stand up for herself. She reaches out to her distant father, a coach at the high school, and her older brother who has been embarrassed by her, and comes to terms with her mother’s death.

Susan’s blossoming self-esteem is reminiscent of Bobby’s in Robert Lipstyte’s One Fat Summer (Harper & Row, 1977) and Colie’s in Sarah Dressen’s Keeping the Moon (Viking, 1999/VOYA December 1999). As in those books, skilled writing, on-target dialogue, and sharply drawn characters bring this thought-provoking story to life.     -VOYA
Publishers Weekly
"Carefully nuanced connections between characters plus insight into the adolescent ability to use low self-esteem as a cruel weapon catapults this novel of troubled teens well above the familiarity of its trappings," said PW in a starred review. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Having determined that expulsion is equivalent to giving up on a student, the head counselor at Wayne High has decided to bring together a small group of students for the rest of the semester. Sophomore Susan Callaway, who is an overweight loner bullied or ignored by the other students, is dreading these after school group counseling sessions, especially when she learns that Kale Krasner, her main nemesis for years, is in the group. Also in this class to avoid expulsion are Randy Callahan, Tracee Ellison, Amber Hawkins and Brendan Slater. Over the course of the semester, they learn about one another and about themselves. Susan grows in self-confidence and learns the identity of the person making crank calls when she is alone. Atkins brings together a wide range of high school "types" without making them cardboard stereotypes. Readers will be anxious to know what happens to each of these students, and curious to know why they were going to be expelled from school. Hot topics such as the treatment of gays in high school and gang rape are presented along with the standard topics of bullies and jocks. The characters use language appropriate to their personalities. The need for discourse to see beyond the "type" and see the person is the message here. Atkins does a fine job creating characters that one cares about and a realistic high school setting. 2003, G P Putnam's Sons, Ages 14 up.
—Sharon Salluzzo
Most teenagers would probably like this book, but it is not the book for me. I found the language and subject matter that which I can't condone. The plot and writing are good, so I think I will take the good with the bad on this one, but I am not planning on reading any more books by this author. I rate it a 2Q, 3P. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Putnam's, 224p,
— Cristina Anglin, Teen Reviewer
A small group of troubled high school students, threatened with expulsion, are given the alternative of attending an after-school group therapy class: this is their alt ed. The narrator is Susan, the daughter of the school athletic director and football coach—a decent man, but one who is unable to express his feelings. This is a terrible problem because the family is grieving the death of the mother, and Susan and her brother feel lost and alone. To add to Susan's problems, she is fat and hides behind baggy clothes; she is frequently the victim of taunting and other abuse. She has no friends and is a kind of non-person. This book is about how Susan finds her own voice. She develops a friendship with another person in the group—another victim of terrible bullying—Brendan is gay. Another member of the group is a hateful fellow, impulsive, one of the worst of the bullies, actually. Another person in the group is a born-again Christian, popular, a good student. (It's interesting to discover at long last why she is in danger of expulsion.) There are two more in the group: a fierce young woman, prone to fights; and a likeable athlete who knows he should be a better person than people think he is. All agree at the end of the experience that the group class is the best education they have gotten at the high school—learning from one another. Susan makes small steps toward connecting with her father, standing up for herself, taking care of her body and her appearance. Some of the most searing passages concern the homophobia so powerful in the school. This will satisfy YAs who yearn to understand the dynamics of relationships, especially difficult relationships, and to see beyond the surface to thereal person. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Penguin Putnam, 199p.,
— Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Susan Callaway is a painfully self-conscious sophomore at Wayne High. Constantly teased about her weight, she has no friends. Her longtime nemesis, Kale Krasner, is a slow-witted bully whom she suspects is behind the harassing phone calls she's been getting. When she meets openly gay Brendan Slater in the school library, she makes friends with this fellow outcast, and together they surreptitiously deface Kale's pickup truck. This act of vandalism lands them both in a new 12-week, after-school group led by the head guidance counselor and designed as an alternative to expulsion for six students with serious infractions. Meeting in a stuffy trailer, the Alt Ed group, bound by confidentiality, also includes a football player, a popular cheerleader, a tough girl, and Kale. In short chapters, these teens begin to talk, but honesty and trust come hard in a group divided by social status, homophobia, ugly rumors, sexism, and intolerance, and it is sometimes hard to differentiate personalities with so much heated dialogue. With Alt Ed discussions so frank, argumentative, and sometimes downright rude, Mr. Duffy gently tempers the tone, and the sharing of feelings gradually helps to build respect and understanding among members. When the group ends, all six teens are stronger-even Kale shows signs of rehabilitation. Although the novel features the popular themes of adolescent self-acceptance and belonging, Atkins's attempt to address so many teen issues feels diffuse and contrived and doesn't fully succeed.-Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Atkins (When Jeff Comes Home, 2002) offers an anxious and tender story, excellently written on a theme of peer acceptance. Susan leads a tense and lonely daily existence. Her distant father has been especially absent since her mother died, and her brother is usually downright mean. Even more painful are daily harassments from Susan’s classmates (because she is fat) and anonymous, cruelly mocking phone calls. When Susan gets in trouble, she is placed in a "class" with five other students avoiding expulsion. Their lives turn out to be interwoven in more ways than is obvious, and because each character is written with subtle levels of complexity, what could have been a collection of stereotypes is instead a group of highly nuanced and thought-provoking individuals. Susan tentatively makes friends with Brendan, a gay boy who is also subject to peer torment, tries to figure out how to change her treatment at the hands of the world, and struggles to make emotional contact with her father. The only flaw: as Susan begins to show little sseedlings of confidence, she begins to lose weight, a stale and disheartening cultural stereotype. Otherwise, a complex and stellar work. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.64(h) x 0.55(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Carefully nuanced connections between characters plus insight into the adolescent ability to use low self-esteem as a cruel weapon catapults Atkins's novel of troubled teens well above the familiarity of its trappings. Each of Atkins's characters emerges, fully formed from these pages."—Publishers Weekly

Meet the Author

Catherine Atkins is a teacher as well as a writer. She has taught in alternative education programs for the past ten years, working with students of all ages, from elementary level to adults. Most of her teaching experience, however, has been with teenagers. "I enjoy working with teens," Atkins says. "They have it all: the curiosity and vulnerability of children, the blossoming intelligence and awareness of their age, and surprising empathy and maturity, sometimes when you least expect it." She especially enjoys helping students improve their writing skills. "I have given my 'How to write a five-paragraph essay' lesson to many teens over the years, and it's always a joy to watch their faces when they realize they CAN do it, they can write an essay, when they never believed they could before." Catherine's background includes stints as a news reporter and talk-show host. She loves animals, art, and theater. At the age of four, she appeared in a nationally broadcast Pepsi commercial.

copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

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Alt Ed 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a pretty decent book and it tells a good story. It was truly genuine and it really touched. In some moments it really touched me because I actually would cry while reading the book. Although, I wish it would ended a little differently, but other then that the story was great.
romancemistress More than 1 year ago
Catherine Atkins has delivered a superbly characterized window into what's happening in schools today. For every parent who doesn't think their angel could be a bully there are probably a couple more who don't know that their child is being terrorized daily...and since this sort of systematic bullying seems to lie behind alot of the suicides and school shootings in the news constantly, books like this need to find their way into the hands of students, parents, teachers and other school staff as a way of addressing the issue. We're introduced to the problem in this particular school through the eyes of Susan Calloway whose mother died slowly and painfully of cancer a few years before leaving Susan effectively isolated in her own home. Her father is a successful coach at her school who has closed himself off from his children due to the pain of losing his wife. Her brother is popular, but not the athletic success his father wishes him to be. Her father praises Susan to friends and colleagues because of her academic prowess, but doesn't seem to know that his athletes are some of her biggest tormentors because of her weight. We're never really given an accurate idea of her weight...students call her fat, but she's also described as "chubby" not that that matters; she's picked on daily so that her only refuge is her home and her cat who was rescued from bullies years before. When Susan takes the blame for an act of vandalism in which she did not participate, she is sent to an after school "therapy" session which meets every Wednesday and consists of 6 students who were facing suspension because of their actions. In this class we meet a Jock, Randy (idealized and crushed on by Susan) who's basically a good kid but who doesn't use his popularity to defend those in need; Kale, a redneck who has terrorized Susan since grade school; Tracee, the prom queen/cheerleader/future lawyer who holds everyone to impossibly high standards who snaps and slaps a teacher when that educator betrays those standards; Amber, the tough chick about whom everyone gossips, but whose real story rips the heart out; and Brendan who makes the first friendly move toward Susan in years even though he's been the most sinned against of all in a systematic homophobic campaign of terror. In a book that mixes today's scary school headlines with the classic 80's "Breakfast Club" (but without the unlikely romances), Alt Ed gives us a view of one teacher who tries to introduce a dialogue between troubled students thereby giving them a way to really see each other as human beings rather than stereotypes, also giving them a way to deal with their own victimization in ways alternative to violence against themselves or others. Superb. If you like Chris Crutcher and Carol Plum-Ucci, give this a try.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was one that caught my eye becasue of the cover. I know strange, but I started reading it and I became addicted. It tells about of young woman's struggle to deal with her weight and her tormentors. The group therapy session helps to reveal how much all these people have in common. A great coming of age story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about a girl named Susan Callaway being bullied because she is overweight. She is tired of people always making fun of her, so she fights back. Her anonymous act of revenge lands her in an alternative education class that meets every Wednesday. She meets with five other students that are in the same shoes that she is in. The actions that these students did could have gotten them expelled from school.I didn¿t like how the book had so many chapters so close together. When the chapter I was read got good it would end and start a new chapter. I thought that the book had good description of what is happening. In some spots it felt like I was actually there. This gook is not in a series. I think that this book relates to a TV show called everyone hates Chris. I think if someone likes to sit back and read for a long time than this is the book for them because it gets confusing after awhile. When I picked this book out, I saw that it was about bulling and I just got done doing a project on it, so I thought that it would be a chouse to pick.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Alt Ed didn't catch my attention till about 100 pages into the book, then lost it again about 65 pages later. The book is full of dialog and most of it is negative it's full of conflict and the conflict really is never resolved. just put out in the open and accepted by the characters. If you've read almost every other book in B&N go to another store read those books and then read this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel has an excellent grasp on the insecurities, crisis, and emotions high school students face. A bit like the 80's movie 'The Breakfast Club', their are many distinct personalities that are revealed during the course of the after school class that fills most of the book. An eye opener for many teens into the shoes of their peers. A quick read -- but well worth it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was a little wary of reading this book when I picked it up in my high school library, actually. I was dreading the possibility of a complete cliche. Needless to say, this book was the complete opposite. It was utterly amazing. I read it WEEKS ago and I still think about it all the time. It takes the idea of things not being what they seems and expands on it. I really connected with the characters, and I loved every one of them. Yes, even Kale. Though the language was a bit coarse, it was incredibly befitting. Everyone didn't talk like a sailor, but it wasn't like an episode of 7th Heaven either. It was really, really realistic. The personalities were amazing, and the situations really happen. I've already recommended this book to half the people I know!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was pretty kewl. I read it in like... 4 days, which is like quick 4 me, cuz i do other stuff. This book reminded me of a kid in my class. But she doesn't get picked on @ all. This girl Susan Callaway, gets picked on a lot, and showed me how bad it hurts ppl's feelings when they get picked on. Awesome Book!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was OK. I tend to read books about teens overcoming obstacles, so this one was right up my alley. I loved the friendships between different cliques that ensued!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Th emain character is Susan Callaway. She is a quiet girl who is overweight and called 'fat' by her peers. She dwells upon the fact that her mother died from cancer when she was only 11. Her father dies not recognize this and, in fact, the people in her house barely talk or even act as a family unit. Her father plays a minor role in this book as the head coach of the football team. Since she has recieved top grades and good remarks for her teachers, her father expects her to be a good girl and act accordingly. Another major role in this book is Mr. Duffy, who is best described as an overweight counselor who believes in doing everything possible to keep kids in school and help them as they struggle. Brendan Slater, Randy Callahan, Kale Krasner, Tracee Ellison, and Abmer Hawkins,also play a key role in this story. The story is about Susan Callaway, who is made fun of because of her weight. One day, while she is in the library, she meets a nice guy named Brendan Slater. He seems nice, but when she mentions him at home, her brother warns her to stay away from him. One day,after lunch, Susan comes back late to find Brendan vandalizing a car. While she does not help him, she does not try to stop him. They both take the rap for it, and are sent into a program headed by Mr. Duffy. When she enters this class, Susan gets to know some of the students who made fun of her. Together,they conquer their fear of people who are different, and even become friends. I think that the underlying message of this book is that hate hurts and prejudice, of any kind, is wrong. I believe that it is semi-realistic in that people are made fun of and many could benefit from just getting to know others who are different, instead of making fun. It shows how one girl is affraid to show her true feelings because she fears that people will ridicule her even more. I woukld recomend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Alt Ed is a realistic and well written story about a group of high school students who attend after school sessions because of something they did. The book kept me thinking about it after I finished reading.