ridiculous/hilarious/terrible/cool: a year in an american high school

Overview

Elisha Cooper spent a year hanging out at a Chicago high school— listening, watching, questioning, and sketching the students. He followed eight kids in particular, mostly seniors, through their entire year, and by telling their specific stories—of classes, extra-curriculars, friends, romances, and family—he gives us a more general picture of what it's like to be a high school student today. Part documentary, part soap opera, part sketchbook, this is an eye-opening, thoroughly entertaining account—one that will ...

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Overview

Elisha Cooper spent a year hanging out at a Chicago high school— listening, watching, questioning, and sketching the students. He followed eight kids in particular, mostly seniors, through their entire year, and by telling their specific stories—of classes, extra-curriculars, friends, romances, and family—he gives us a more general picture of what it's like to be a high school student today. Part documentary, part soap opera, part sketchbook, this is an eye-opening, thoroughly entertaining account—one that will appeal equally to readers who are looking forward to high school and those who are looking back.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Cooper, known for his savvy picture books (Beach; A Good Night Walk) and his parenting memoir, Crawling, trains his sights on teens with this perceptive documentary account of an academic year at Walter Payton High, a magnet school in Chicago (a few references locate the year as 2005-2006). Focusing primarily on seniors, he intersperses scenes about Emily, the straight-A soccer captain "who walks through the halls as if she were knocking people out of the way"; Maya, the intense actor who has a "small-town affect" and "could play the role of The Good Student"; Daniel, the overachieving class president whose role model is Barack Obama; Anais, the dedicated ballet dancer; Diana, the swimmer with a brother in jail; Anthony, obsessed with an ex-girlfriend and permanently ensconced in the cafeteria; Aisha, the only Muslim on campus; and Zef, the failing, caffeine-addicted insomniac. The school milieu is sharply and wittily evoked in deadpan transcriptions of anonymous conversations and descriptions of ordinary events like a basketball game (after it ends, the freshman who misses a key shot "jogs over to the basket and jumps into the air... placing the imaginary ball into its rightful place"). Readers looking for a story, however, may be disappointed; the considerable strengths of the work come from Cooper's genius for observation and confident refusal to dramatize what he finds. Illustrated throughout with small sketches; final art not seen by PW. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Carrie Hane Hung
Walter Payton High School in Chicago, Illinois is described as "an academic urban alternative to the suburban high schools." The student population comes from various parts of the city to attend the school with the motto "We nurture leaders." The story provides a sketch of the different students that flow through the halls of Payton from September through June. Author Elisha Cooper visited, interviewed, and followed eight Payton High students during the course of the school year. Six of the students were seniors who were applying to colleges. Daniel, Emily, Maya, Diana, Aisha, and Anais shared their individual stories and dreams for the future as they dealt with the present issues of personal goals, family, and college. Zef and Anthony were juniors who were struggling through the school year; one slept through classes and the other sold drugs. Month by month the school year went by and the students described their thoughts and lives. A brief summary at the end of story provided an update about each student six months after graduation. Reviewer: Carrie Hane Hung
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up -This book recounts the lives of eight students as they finish up their senior year at an alternative high school in Chicago. Readers see brief snippets of their lives, including their friendships and family dramas, struggles for passing grades, and the day-to-day things they do to stay on their individual college paths. While the book does cover the entire year and all of the standard events, it ends up trying to do too much and the result is a surface look at some forgettable types. The book is told from the third-person omniscient point of view, which is awkward, because instead of finding out about the teens, readers are either told things straight out or, even more annoyingly, the students have internal conversations with themselves. All of them fit some sort of label: the jock, the slacker, the class president, etc., although one of them, a Muslim, stands out as somewhat distinctive. Events like teen pregnancy feel glossed over as they are mentioned in passing. Because the book jumps around so much, with each individual receiving at most a paragraph before moving on to the next, it is difficult to get involved in any of these students' lives or to distinguish them from one another.-Jessie Spalding, Queen Creek Branch Library, AZ

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803731691
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/13/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 7.36 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Elisha Cooper is the author of the acclaimed memoir Crawling: A Father's First Year, the sketchbook A Year in New Dance! among many other illustrated books. He lives in New York City.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 14, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Randstostipher "tallnlankyrn" Nguyen for TeensReadToo.com

    Walking through the hallways of Walton Payton High School are a very selectively diverse group of students. Like its location, the students are all from different worlds but come together in one place. Out of the entire school, eight students stand out the most, in more ways than one. <BR/><BR/>First there is Anais, the dancer. Dancing is obviously her life, spending every day going to dance practice, hoping that one day she will be able to attend Julliard. <BR/><BR/>Then there is Daniel, the school's class president who is all business when it comes to academics and his future, not one to stand by stereotypes that people have against him because of his race. <BR/><BR/>Next is Emily, the girl's soccer captain since she was a junior. She doesn't fool around on or off the field. <BR/><BR/>Maya is the actress, always in every school play. Her acting is the only way she can shake off her little spasms and her OCD-ish routines. <BR/><BR/>Diana is very proper and polite. And also very smart, although she never shows it. Never talking in class, even though she knows the answers, she keeps to herself, having only one true friend since the other one left. <BR/><BR/>Aisha is the new girl, transferring from her last school located in Florida. She knows that this is only for a year, since her parents move all the time, so why make friends? <BR/><BR/>Zef is odd, and he knows it and isn't ashamed of it. Loving the sound of his own music and talking to himself, for some reason students are intrigued and are drawn to him. <BR/><BR/>And last but not least is Anthony. His comfort zone is located in only one place in the school, the cafeteria. <BR/><BR/>Some know what they want to accomplish this year, like becoming the best leader the school has ever seen or taking their time to achieve levels that they have never seen before, while others aren't so sure what their outcome will be. One thing they do have in common is college. Whether or not it's for them or not and whether or not they will get into the college they so desperately need to escape to. <BR/><BR/>Inserted details of what goes on during school hours, from who sits where to the appropriate acknowledgements to old friends, gives this non-fiction account an extra sense of reality, which coincides with the lives of eight very different teens. Captivating and unique, Elisha Cooper manages to write a true account that can tell a story so raw and so real.

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