Hummingbirds

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A wonderfully compelling debut novel about the intertwining—and darkly surprising—relationships between the teachers and students at an all-girls prep school Spend a year at the Carmine-Casey School for Girls, an elite prep school on Manhattan's Upper East Side: the year when the intimate private school community becomes tempestuous and dangerously incestuous as the rivalries and secrets of teachers and students intersect and eventually collide.

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Overview

A wonderfully compelling debut novel about the intertwining—and darkly surprising—relationships between the teachers and students at an all-girls prep school Spend a year at the Carmine-Casey School for Girls, an elite prep school on Manhattan's Upper East Side: the year when the intimate private school community becomes tempestuous and dangerously incestuous as the rivalries and secrets of teachers and students intersect and eventually collide.

In the world of students, popular and coquettish Dixie Doyle, with her ironic pigtails, battles to wrest attention away from the smart and disdainful Liz Warren, who spends her time writing and directing plays based on the Oresteia. In the world of teachers, the adored Leo Binhammer struggles to share his territory with Ted Hughes, the charming new English teacher who threatens to usurp Binhammer's status as the department's only male teacher and owner of the girls' hearts. When a secret is revealed between them, Binhammer grows increasingly fascinated by the man he has determined is out to get him.

As seasons change and tensions mount, the girls long for entry into the adult world, toying with their premature powers of flirtation. Meanwhile, the deceptive innocence of the adolescent world—complete with plaid skirts and scented highlighters—becomes a trap into which the flailing teachers fall. By the end of the year the line between maturity and youth begins to blur, and the question on the final exam is: Who are the adults and who are the children?

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Editorial Reviews

People StyleWatch
“Provocative and well written.”
Publishers Weekly
The Carmine-Casey prep school girls flutter through Gaylord’s debut, but they’re not alone; their teachers are insecure flirts and cheats amid divorces and trysts. One such teacher is Leo Binhammer, whose wife, Sarah Lewis, had a brief affair two years ago with Carmine-Casey’s newest teacher, the charismatic Ted Hughes. When Binhammer realizes the connection, he keeps it to himself, and before long, Ted, a reckless romantic, charms Binhammer into an unusual friendship. Meanwhile, student Dixie Doyle and her peers lounge outside the school in their pleated skirts, emanating Lolita-like “accidental sexuality.” Binhammer, who is unapologetic about his attraction to the students, tries to connect with Liz Warren, the playwright in his class, before Ted charms her. Similarly competitive, Liz and Dixie vie for attention from the few adult men around the school, and the complicated web of loyalties, attraction, competition and camaraderie provides much tension as things play out—but not in an expected way. While the narration takes some getting used to—there are many personalities and points-of-view at play—Gaylord’s tale of overeducated men and the teenage students who exhibit the finesse and understanding their teachers lack hits all the right notes. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In his debut novel, the author, who teaches at a private Manhattan high school, brings the reader into the minds of the faculty and students at Carmine-Casey School for Girls, an elite prep school on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Leo Binhammer has the distinction of being the sole male English teacher at the school, which makes him a favorite among some of the students—especially Dixie Doyle, who flatters Binhammer with her wiles while infuriating the smarter girls. Fortunately, as Binhammer struggles to keep his wits about him, he finds in his English colleagues a jovial camaraderie that allows him to share professional insights and personal dilemmas. When another male English teacher is hired, however, Binhammer's professional and private lives collide. VERDICT Especially good at characterization, Gaylord has delivered a story that's ripe with acute and wry observations on men and women, competition, sexuality, and secrets. He's created a slippery slope, but readers will find the terrain surprisingly navigable as the novel ends. Highly recommended.—M. Neville, Trenton P.L., NJ
Kirkus Reviews
In Gaylord's winning debut, teenage girls and their male teachers vie for power at a Manhattan prep school. Leo Binhammer, the only man in the English department at the Carmine-Casey School for Girls, luxuriates in his roles as brooding hero to the students, preening pet of the female faculty. He's unsettled by the arrival of charismatic new English teacher Ted Hughes. It's short for Theodore, not Edward like the famous poet, but Leo resents someone "who would use the nickname Ted, knowing . . . what literary baggage it carries." Leo's not just angry because this interloper will be his rival for the girl's swooning devotion; he also knows that Ted slept with his wife, Sarah Lewis, a few years ago at a conference. Although Leo has reconciled with Sarah, he's obsessed with the man who made him a cuckold, at first despising Ted, then befriending him. They form a boyish camaraderie of witty insults, but Leo keeps his wife's identity a secret from Ted and his new comrade a secret from Sarah. As their complicated relationship plays out through the school year, the seniors grapple with the prospect of life after Carmine-Casey. Head girls Dixie Doyle (ironically sporting pigtails and a lollypop) and Liz Warren (brilliant and bespectacled) are extra antsy, each vaguely aware that her special status is a gilded construct that may not survive outside these hallowed halls. The author, himself a teacher at a Manhattan prep school, is a keen observer of this privileged world. He captures Ted's and Leo's point of view in such lush language (an auditorium "full of the glowing bodies of ridiculous virgins," elsewhere described by Ted as "adorable little bundles of outrage") that readers might overlook hisshrewd, subtle presentation of the students. A very grown-up novel about adolescence and the folly of adults, by an impressive new voice in American fiction. Agent: Josh Getzler/Writers House
People StyleWatch
“Provocative and well written.”
Brock Clarke
“HUMMINGBIRDS is a sly, charming novel about the students at a Manhattan girls’ school and the adults who sometimes remember to teach them. Joshua Gaylord’s winning debut.”
Jonathan Tropper
“Hummingbirds positively glistens with erudition and insight. Whether writing about prep school girls or the adult men who walk among them, Gaylord’s stunning writing elevates his subject matter with equal parts humanity and elegance.”
Ed Park
“Keenly plotted and psychologically acute, this novel thrums with deceptions great and small—what we don’t tell each other, and what we won’t admit to ourselves.”
From the Publisher
"A sly, charming novel about the students at a Manhattan girls' school and the adults who sometimes remember to teach them." —-Brock Clarke, author of the national bestseller An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061769016
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Pages: 342
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Joshua Gaylord taught high school English at an Upper East Side prep school for almost a decade, as well as literature and cultural studies courses as an adjunct professor at the New School.

Actress Cynthia Holloway has performed on stage, film, and television, and she is the voice of Anita Blake in the audiobook editions of Laurell K. Hamilton's bestselling vampire hunter series.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2013

    Spirit

    Bass defenitly because you rock *leans agaunst the door*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2013

    Cat

    Throws on army camo pants, a black bare midrift shirt, black boots, and black fingerless gloves.

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  • Posted November 30, 2009

    A Wonderful Book

    This book is well crafted and enjoyable to read! I found it very difficult to put down. Gaylord's characters compliment each other lovely and are believable. In both my adolescent and adult life I have met similar characters. Filled with drama and intrigue, this book is a must read!

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  • Posted November 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An Well Written, Very Interesting Novel...

    I enjoyed the book for the everything it was, and everything it wasn't. The story is well written, and the action in the novel is continuous, whether it be with Binhammer or a supporting character. All of the characters from the Dixie to Ted Hughes are resemblng of people we might already know, which can help us to identify with the characters.

    I also appreciate Joshua Gaylord's focus on high school, and the colorful way he paints the social atmosphere there. Often novels around high school environments make the students in the school outside of the main character seem gray and almost inanimate.

    I highly recommend this powerful novel!

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