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Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School

Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School

3.7 12
by Michael Bamberger

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Pennsbury High School would be like any other were it not for one thing: its prom. Its spring dance is considered to be one of this country's best legacies. Wonderland is the inspiring true story of a dance floor and the kids who fill it: a tale of hope, sex, love, and loss. For one year, the students, parents, and teachers of Pennsbury invited Michael


Pennsbury High School would be like any other were it not for one thing: its prom. Its spring dance is considered to be one of this country's best legacies. Wonderland is the inspiring true story of a dance floor and the kids who fill it: a tale of hope, sex, love, and loss. For one year, the students, parents, and teachers of Pennsbury invited Michael Bamberger, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, into their classrooms, their homes, their parties, and their dreams. He discovered an extraordinary and disparate group of everyday teenagers whose stories were touching, odd, funny, and beautiful.
In Wonderland, lives intersect in unpredictable ways and are never what they appear to be. The star quarterback hides the pain of not knowing where his father is. A student with cerebral palsy is desperate to learn to tie Eagle Scout knots, despite a useless left hand. And then there is Bob Costa, who dreams of bringing glory to the school by convincing John Mayer, whose song "Your Body Is a Wonderland" is an anthem for the students, to perform at the prom. Critically acclaimed in hardcover, Wonderland is published in paperback with a new afterword by the author.

Editorial Reviews

Prom Night is always eagerly awaited, but at Pennsbury High School outside Philadelphia, the suspense is almost unbearable. Each spring, hundreds of students of this middle-class high school plan their grand entrances to the event. With thousands of locals watching along Hood Avenue, they arrive at the event in trolleys, cement mixers, dogsleds, floats, or dinosaurs. Sports Illustrated reporter Michael Bamberger spent a year chronicling events at the school, watching the life transitions that culminate in the big night.
The New Yorker
The juniors and seniors of Pennsbury High—whose fortunes Bamberger traces in this account of a year in the life of a suburban Pennsylvania public school—are a familiar menagerie: jocks, grocery baggers, the odd A.V. Club geek. But their earnestness about the renowned, over-the-top Pennsbury Prom is striking. One student schemes to secure the DeLorean from “Back to the Future” as transportation. It’s a fitting detail; although Bamberger means to present a microcosm of contemporary middle-class America, his weakness for quaint traditions results in a book that feels more nostalgic than up to date. It’s unclear whether Bamberger found a campus preserved in fifties-era amber or merely ignored aspects of it that would complicate his white-bread vision. Still, he succeeds in evoking the strangely obdurate innocence of a place where generations come and go but the school rest rooms still smell of “grapefruit disinfectant.”
Publishers Weekly
For the last 30 years, Pennsbury High, a huge public school in Fairless Hills, Pa., has staged such an over-the-top senior prom that thousands of local residents turn out on prom night just to watch the seniors enter their "Wonderland." Bamberger, a Sports Illustrated senior writer, spent a school year with Pennsbury's seniors, recording their "true-life" stories. Since prom planning starts in September and climaxes in May, the event is both a good hook for readers and a convenient organizational device for various subplots that develop month by month. Will up-and-coming musician John Mayer finally agree to play for the prom? Will Rob and Stephanie still go to the prom, now that they're parents of a newborn baby? Will Lindsey keep co-chairing the prom committee even though she needs heart surgery? Bamberger cuts from one subplot to the next like a seasoned TV soap director, breaking away from each story just when it gets juicy. While much of the drama is about who's attracted to whom (high school kids are "on display, like mating birds"), for variety there's an ace student involved in a drinking death, another coping with cerebral palsy, some with college admissions problems, one or two kids planning for upward mobility via sports, plus a few faculty members with their own issues. Bamberger's teens may not be 100% typical, but they offer a good window onto at least a segment of contemporary teen culture. Agent, Kris Dahl. (June) FYI: The book has been optioned by Paramount Pictures. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
The author, at the invitation of students, parents, and teachers at Pennsbury High School in Pennsylvania, spent the 2002-2003 school year looking into classrooms, homes, relationships, and—the ultimate rite of passage—the prom. The key figures include Principal Bill Katz who looks forward to yet another year as the school's mayor and police chief; one of the school's athletic elite, Lindsey Milroy, who faces a particularly challenging year; socially marginalized Bob Costa who vows to get everything he can out of high school; attractive Alyssa Bergman who will let nothing stand in her way for success; Rob Stephens and Stephanie Coyle who are determined to go to the prom, but they need to find a babysitter; Bobby Speer, super-star athlete, who routinely lives a more significant life than classmates could imagine; and Harry Stymeist, always an outsider because of cerebral palsy, who finds success in the school's TV studio. These players join teachers, students, and students' families to become the dramatis personae in Bamberger's presentation—a drama showcasing family difficulties, school politics, social pressures, sexual relationships, and substance abuse as well as a drama that also includes comedies of situation and error on an American high school campus. High school readers will enjoy comparing their experiences to those of students at Pennsbury; however, teachers, librarians, and parents should note that Bamberger's creative nonfiction account contains language that may be offensive to some readers. 2004, Atlantic Monthly, Ages 14 to 18.
—Tim Davis
Kirkus Reviews
Affecting, low-key chronicle by Sports Illustrated writer Bamberger (To the Linksland, 1992, etc.) of a year spent with a cross-section of students at Pennsbury High, outside Philadelphia. Pennsbury is your good-sized Everyschool, drawing its students from the working-class towns of Lower Bucks County and the posher suburbs surrounding it. Its modest claim to fame, and the hook on which the author drapes his story, is an old-fashioned prom night held in the school gymnasium. Almost every senior will attend that event, which threatens to overwhelm a couple of the story's main characters. Bamberger wisely concentrates on the fates of some dozen students, juniors and seniors, following their trajectories with enough detail to elicit empathy. He profiles a young couple who have a baby, a three-sport icon who buckles slightly under the burden of being considered perfect (though his relationship with his younger brother, who has spina bifida, is perfect), and a kid with cerebral palsy who wonderfully gets his ducks in a row. A grim mid-narrative climax arrives with the terrible death of one whose ducks were already flying very high indeed, even if he was "working on his cool." But all miniature melodramas lead to the prom, and Bamberger handles them with such aplomb they take on outsized importance, just as the kids experienced them. Will singer John Mayer show? Will the Hollywood motif be a bust? Will the hundreds of strange dreams that the students harbor work out? Teachers, administrators, and parents (like the kids, some are getting it right, while others burn out or just get it wrong) also are melded into a tableau so natural it seems to be breathing on its own. Tenderly delivers afrazzled, appealing group of kids, proving once again that no examined life is ordinary. Agent: Kris Dahl/ICM

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 8.96(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt


A Year in the Life of an American High School
By Michael Bamberger

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

ISBN: 0-87113-917-0

Chapter One

Mike Kosmin and his friends started talking about her in September, the hot girl in the hot car, and now Mike's father was finally seeing her, on the day of the prom. The girl was a senior and from the start of the school year Mike and his buddies called her Jeans, for the low-slung, acid-washed jeans she wore on Tuesdays, with the zipper in the back. Kosmin was a junior at Pennsbury High, not a nerd, though he loved computers, not a jock, though he had made himself a good hockey player and skateboarder. He was a little chunky, funny, new to driving and the world of girls. Labor Day weekend, his parents had surprised him with the ultimate gift, a car, not some ratty old Dodge Omni but a brand-new triple black Acura RSX. Mike was saving up to improve the sound system. Still, some ride.

Only the most connected juniors could get parking spaces at the oversubscribed Pennsbury High School student parking lot, so Mike Kosmin was forced to rent a space at the pizza place next to the school. Each day, when the final school bell rang at 2:08 p.m., Mike and his friends would walk across the school parking lot and to the Marcelli's Pizza lot, turn up Eminem, and watch Jeans sashay her way to her black Corvette, flipping her long blond hair over one shoulder before slipping into the car and driving off to places unknown and unknowable.


Excerpted from Wonderland by Michael Bamberger Excerpted by permission.
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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is this book worth my $, how many pages is it? And i rated it any 1 star bc i havent read it
morganmiller More than 1 year ago
Wonderland is a very quick read and worth the time. The writer never judges what the students do, but he lets their actions speak for themselves. Each of the chapters are named after a month, September through May. I would have liked to have read more about finals and graduation instead of stopping after the prom in May and jumping to their later years. However, I did like the last bit wrapping up what happened the summer and fall after the school year and how author tied it into his own life during high school.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have no association with the high school that is the focus of this book, so I was not reading about familiar territory like many reviewers. I would just suggest reading a few pages before you buy it because I found it to be very poorly written. It was so hard to figure out why the author structures it the way he does--why does the reader care about the author's own prom date? Interesting subject, though.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first found out that someone was writing a book about my former high school (graduate of 2001), the first thing that popped into my head was how they turned something so great into a publicity stunt. But, after reading this book, I was wrong. The book accurately turns loose anything that any past or present PHS student has gone or will go through. It showed readers about Sports Nite, the junior prom, ways to come up with money to hold such events, and the harsh realities of life that some people had to deal with. Although, I did find some information lacking and quite wrong (like for instance the girl in the low jeans and Corvette. I knew her and boy was she ever aware of her popularity), I still enjoyed this book. It hit close to home and now I know why I love Pennsbury so much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I noticed a few bits of wrong info. in the book but, overall, I loved it! Maybe I liked it more because it was about my high school. My cousin was at the pennsbury prom the following year and did get to see John Mayer at her Prom! So he did finally come if anyone is wondering. I think the book was a fairly accurate account of the life of high schoolers today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What surprised me the most about this piece was its incredible accuracy of experience. Being a Class of 2000 alum, I was pleasantly transported back to the halls of my high school, reminded of all my dreams, my goals, my inspirations... Regardless of your alma mater, I'm certain this book will do the same for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a PHS East student, I'm pretty proud of the positive recognition my school has been getting in the past few months and with a movie in the near future, will continue to get. 'Wonderland' is a pretty good book. It's not your typical 'let's go back to high school' account, is honest, and pretty fair. However, it's not perfect. I found that the ending could have been improved. Overall, I'm satisfied with the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael Bamberger was fortunate enough to be given permission to be the 'fly on the gym wall' at an American high school that puts on a prom like no other. In delving into the preparation and tradition of the end of year bash of Pennsbury (PA)High School, the author introduces us to a diverse group of young people. Remarkably, none of them come off as the stereotypes of Big Jock, Queen Bee, Techie Nerd or Overachieving Handicapped Kid, but rather, as real people with spirit, passions and dreams. As a long out of high school reader, I was drawn into the book by the well-crafted narrative and found it to be a page-turner because you're made to really care about the young people described. It made me feel more optimistic about American teenagers. Wonderland is a book to be thoroghly enjoyed by those nostalgic for high school as well as those who are grateful to have survived that awkard stage of life. The parents of teenagers will read this book and wish they had as revealing a view of their own children. Anyone who ever attended or helped to plan a prom will relate to all the energy and angst involved in getting ready for the party they spend their whole senior year anticipating. It's a great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book to the endth degree. I am transfering next year to pennsbury as a sophmore, but have grown up in Yardley for the majority of my life. I did have a special feeling with this book, because I get my haircut, shop, and hang out the same places as the kids in the books so its extra special for me. Even if I wasn't from this area, this book would still be very enjoyable, it is extremely well writen and shows the difficulities in high school and some of this minds that go through the school systems.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Pennsbury Grad Class of 1992 Great Read overall. Gives and honest look at life in my Alma mater.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a Pennsbury grad ('96) and was born and raised in Levittown, PA, the settings in Michael Bamberger's book 'Wonderland.' Bamberger does a wonderful job of portraying my high school and hometown. The prom is the central focus of the story, but he effectively does several things at once throughout the book. From laying out the history of Pennsbury and the surrounding area, to developing many different characters that are interesting to follow, to crafting a story that takes actual accounts and weaves them into a page turning novel. Bamberger paints the subjects in the book vividly, and it's interesting to read about the teachers and the principal who were around during my time at Pennsbury. I was never one for having a lot of school spirit, but I was and still am proud to be from Levittown. He does a great job of describing it by including many of the numerous sections and streets, the local businesses and hangouts, and vivid depictions of the homes. He also discusses the inherent social and economic differences between Levittowners and Yardley residents. I always felt an undercurrent of this division in my high school and it's great that the author brought it out in the book. If you start reading it, you'll definitely finish it within a few days. It's a great read, even if you didn't go to Pennsbury.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a student at PHS, I must say that his book was severe disapointment. I do suppose the truth was told, but could we not have been portrayed in a less negative manner? We were expecting a heart-felt novel and instead what we recieved was a disgusting piece of trash stereotyping the students at our less-than-perfect school. It is obvious that Wonderland was written sheerly for profit, NOT, as the title suggests, to portray life as an average Pennsbury student. xoxo and LOTS of Falcon pride!