Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes

by Kathleen West

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Perfect for fans of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Small Admissions, a wry and cleverly observed debut novel about the privileged bubble that is Liston Heights High—the micro-managing parents, the overworked teachers, and the students caught in the middle—and the fallout for each of them when the bubble finally bursts.

When a devoted teacher comes under pressure for her progressive curriculum and a helicopter mom goes viral on social media, two women at odds with each other find themselves in similar predicaments, having to battle back from certain social ruin.
Isobel Johnson has spent her career in Liston Heights sidestepping the community’s high-powered families. But when she receives a threatening voicemail accusing her of Anti-Americanism and a liberal agenda, she’s in the spotlight. Meanwhile, Julia Abbott, obsessed with the casting of the school’s winter musical, makes an error in judgment that has far-reaching consequences for her entire family.
Brought together by the sting of public humiliation, Isobel and Julia learn firsthand how entitlement and competition can go too far, thanks to a secret Facebook page created as an outlet for parent grievances. The Liston Heights High student body will need more than a strong sense of school spirit to move past these campus dramas in an engrossing debut novel that addresses parents behaving badly and teenagers speaking up, even against their own families.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593098424
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 9,784
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Kathleen West is a veteran middle and high-school teacher. She graduated with a degree in English from Macalester College and holds a Master's degree in literacy education from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Minneapolis with her hilarious husband, two sporty sons, and very bad goldendoodle.

Read an Excerpt

Isobel Johnson

Isobel Johnson spent most of each class period, and half of that afternoon’s department meeting, obsessing over the message. She’d tried to place the strident voice and had ruled out suspects based on their holiday teacher gifts. How could someone give her a twenty-­dollar Starbucks card, she reasoned, and then six weeks later threaten her via voice mail?

Isobel took a deep breath as she headed for the door closest to the teacher parking lot and felt her belly strain against the waistband of her wool pencil skirt. She sucked her stomach back in and recalled the language in the message. “Flagrantly Marxist” was there, as was “anti-­American,” and, she thought, “retaliation.” She’d have to play the message for Mark when she got home. That would make for more interesting dinner conversation than the usual rundown of soccer practice and school-­day antics. Thinking about it, Isobel let out a rueful little laugh as she walked into the dull February chill.

“What’s so funny?” Isobel looked back at Jamie, whom she hadn’t noticed was walking behind her. She’d first met her young colleague at the mentor luncheon during the woman’s first week of work the year before. Now Jamie’s scuffed Liston Heights name badge clattered against a button on her fitted gray cardigan as she shifted her backpack and threw her arm through the second strap. Isobel credited herself with Jamie’s successful start at Liston Heights High, which had just that month been once again named the top public high school in the state of Minnesota. The school’s high-­powered parents usually devoured new teachers, but Jamie had made it through her first year and a half with relatively few tears and only three or four parent complaints. Of course, it also helped that Jamie herself had graduated from Liston Heights just six years before. She knew how to present herself as an insider.

“Oh, hi!” Isobel said. “I was just thinking over some of the kids’ responses to chapter six. Would you believe that Justin Williams suggested the ‘chain of drugstores’ referred to Gatsby’s secret cocaine ring?” Isobel rolled her eyes. “After that, I didn’t even ask for their interpretations of Daisy’s ‘little gold pencil.’ ”

“What do you think of Eleanor’s idea to move Gatsby to the fall?” Jamie asked, zipping her coat. They’d just spent fifteen minutes on that asinine proposal in the department meeting, Isobel staring resolutely at her notebook as their senior faculty member blathered on.

“Why not tell me quickly about the OkCupid guy instead?” They had a hundred yards or so before they reached Isobel’s minivan. She could see Jamie’s Prius parked a couple of spots beyond it.

“Oh, my gosh, yes!” Jamie gushed. “So, we’ve been messaging for, like, three days, and we finally made a plan to meet near my apartment for a drink after work tomorrow. Of course, everything is complicated by the proximity of Valentine’s Day, but we already joked about that.”

“Drinks on a school night?” Isobel couldn’t help herself. She smiled, feeling old.

“I know,” Jamie said, her dark eyes shining, “but remember the photo I showed you? He’s super cute. I’m just marginally concerned about the fact that he’s a chemical engineer. If we get married, it’s possible my dad will love him more than he loves me.”

Isobel flinched at “concerned,” which had been the lead in the message from that morning. “This is a concerned parent,” the woman had said, her voice piercing and angry. Isobel had frozen where she stood as it started, her tote bag weighing down her forearm, right foot halfway into her L.L.Bean boot. The kids had already tromped out to the van, and they were three minutes behind the ideal departure time when the phone rang. Isobel hadn’t bothered to race to it—­no one they knew used that number anymore now that even twelve-­year-­old Callie had a cell phone. Besides, who called at seven thirty-­three a.m.?

“CrossFit,” Jamie was saying now. “I mean, I suppose I could give it a try.” The two stopped even with Isobel’s minivan, a grimy “Live Simply So Others Can Simply Live” sticker affixed to the lower-­right-­hand corner of the back window.

Isobel reached into her pocket for the key fob and watched the hatch rise. “You know how I feel about lifelong learning,” she said. “Why not master weight lifting?”

“Maybe tomorrow we can talk about what I might wear on this date?”

Isobel threw her tote into the minivan next to the bulk pack of Veggie Straws from Costco and a flattened baseball mitt. She hit the close button. “We can talk about it,” she said as the hatch came down, “but we both know you have much better instincts than I do.”

“But that skirt.” Jamie pointed at the pink herringbone poking out beneath Isobel’s coat.

“Caroline.” Isobel smiled, referring to her high-­fashion sister, her ­go-­to answer whenever anyone complimented an outfit. “Hey, have a great night.” With a wave, she got in the minivan and headed home.

Tuesdays were Mark’s one day for kid pickup and meal prep, and Isobel knew Callie and Riley would likely be engrossed in the Disney Channel, homework ignored while Mark assembled something in the kitchen.

Things were just as she’d predicted when she opened the back door at five thirty-­four.

“Hi, Mom,” said Callie as she preemptively relinquished the remote to her eight-­year-­old brother and smiled widely. Isobel leaned over the couch and kissed both of their heads, her glasses slipping down her nose as she dipped.

“Mmm, Riley, maybe a shower tonight.”

He screwed his face into a frown. “Bath,” he countered.


Mark smiled over the kitchen counter, where a pile of green onion slices expanded under his knife. “How was your day?” she asked him, dropping her tote and jacket on a chair. She headed toward the landline console at the end of the counter.

“Good.” He shrugged. “Busy.”

“Wait,” Isobel interrupted, reaching for the machine. “I meant to text you. You have to hear this.”

“What is it?” Mark looked up.

“It’s weird,” Isobel said. “Just listen.” She hit play.

“First message,” the machine’s stilted voice said. As soon as the recording began, Isobel could hear the caller’s breathing.

“Ms. Johnson.” A tremor underlay her authoritative tone. “This is a concerned parent. I’m calling because many community members are alarmed about the flagrantly Marxist and anti-­American content you’re preaching in your ­so-­called literature class.”

“What?” Mark exclaimed, stepping toward her, knife still in hand.

The woman’s voice continued. “I speak for a majority of Liston Heights families when I say we’ve chosen this community for the traditional excellence of the schools.” The speaker took a breath. “I know you don’t live here, and I’m not sure what you’re aiming at, but we’re asking you—­urging you, really, for the sake of our children and, frankly, for the sake of your career—­to stick to the board-­approved curriculum.” The speaker delivered the final line of what had to be a pre­written statement. “I’m choosing not to reveal my identity for fear that you’ll retaliate against my child, but do know that I speak for a large constituency of parents, not just for myself.”

“What the hell?” Mark said as the machine beeped.

“Dad!” admonished Riley from the couch. “Language!”

“Sorry,” Mark said, not looking at him. “Who was that?”

“I don’t know.” Isobel squinted at the water streaks on the outside of the stainless steel dishwasher. “There’s that one mom who said that thing to me at the Sadie’s dance a couple of weeks ago. Julia Abbott?”

“Oh, right,” Mark said. “That thing about, like, not being worthy of Liston Heights? What did she mean by that?”

“I guess it means I don’t belong.” Isobel pointed at the machine.

“Bizarre.” Mark put the knife down. “Of course you belong. And how did that person get our number?”

“There’s a directory,” Isobel said. “You have to opt out, and I never do.” She thought for a moment. “Let me listen again. Hey, Cal,” she called to the couch, “can you turn that down?” She hit the play button without waiting for her daughter to comply and leaned toward the speaker. It didn’t quite sound like Julia Abbott, with whom she’d talked several times. She wrapped her arms around her waist and hunched her shoulders, making herself smaller. The message represented a new level of aggression, for sure. Liston Heights parents had a widely known reputation for overstepping, but the most she’d experienced in previous years had been the occasional nasty ­e-­mail. And now there was this, plus that Sadie’s dance conversation.

“I don’t know,” Isobel said finally, turning back to Mark. She walked around to his side of the counter, grabbed a wineglass, and turned the spigot on the box of Cabernet they kept next to the fridge.

When she turned back to her husband, concern wrinkled his forehead in a way she found endearing. Isobel smiled in spite of her building anxiety.

“What did Lyle say about it?” Mark asked.

She hadn’t told her closest colleague about the call. She and Lyle Green­wood had started at LHHS in the same year and generally chatted each day. The news of the voice mail had been stuck in her throat at lunchtime, but the truth was, she knew what Lyle would say, and she didn’t want to hear it. “I didn’t get a chance to tell him.”

“Do you think you should tell Wayne?”

“Wayne?” Isobel blew a breath out of the corner of her mouth, picturing her bumbling principal. “I mean, I guess so.”

“Have you had a Grow and Glow lately?”

Isobel thought of her most recent performance review—­they were stupidly named “Grow and Glow”—­with her department chair, about a month ago. The “Glow” had been about using Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk about stereotypes and assumptions. The “Grow” had been to solicit comments from a wider cross section of her classes. It was a friendly meeting, but Isobel knew how quickly public opinion on teacher quality could change. She had only to think back to the firing of Peter Harrington during the previous school year for an example. He’d been a shining star one moment, and then he’d pissed off the wrong parent.

“It was pretty positive,” she said to Mark. “It seemed before this morning like I was having a good year.” She stared blankly at the tele­vision and took a several-­second swallow from her wineglass.

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Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
DragonNimbus 7 days ago
Kathleen West's new book, Minor Dramas and Other Catastrophes is about a family, a school, teachers, students and events that expand until they get completely out of hand. The story is told from many points of view. Helicopter mom, Julia Abbott is over-zealously trying to make sure her son Andrew gets a meaty roll in the Liston Heights High School play. She sneaks into school to check the cast list and accidentally hurts a student in her excitement. She also is very nasty to English teacher, Isobel Johnson, about her grading and choice of reading material. We hear from Henry, Andrew and Tracy Abbott, Julia's husband and children as they try to figure out what is going on with their Mom and as the kids come to the defense of their favorite teacher. Isobel is mentoring Jamie Preston, a mediocre young teacher who will stop at nothing to insure her job. Principal Wayne Wallace weighs in as do various other members of the Theatre Booster committee and the play director. How the mess snowballs out of control then is resolved makes for entertaining and interesting reading. West does a great job balancing the parents' point of view with the teachers'. The multiple points of view were a little confusing at first but were clearly marked and easy to follow. Anyone who enjoys a good read will love this book. I appreciate the chance to read the ARC!
Jenny_Brown 8 days ago
This funny book totally skewers high school in the same way that Class Mom by Laurie Gelman shreds the elementary school experience. At Liston High, it's time for Julia Abbott's son to take a lead in the school play. After all, the Abbotts donated the costume shop. But Julia's interference causes a stir, especially when an incident with her at the school is filmed by a student and shared on every social media site there is. This, along with the "Marxist" leaning ways of teacher Isobel Johnson, sets into a motion an over-the-top romp that, while extreme, will be recognizable to those of us with high school-aged children. Minor Drama gives the term "helicopter parent" a whole new dimension. Social media plays an aggressive and realistic role in the story, a suitable warning for our times. The novel succeeds on so many levels, but I particularly enjoyed how we dipped in and out of the perspectives of parents, the students, the teachers, and the administrators. It's a tremendous feat to have so many characters, and at no time was I confused about who was who, as each has his or her own voice. At times, you're rooting for different people, and it's not always clear who the "bad guy" is. The ending is absolutely satisfying. This was a really fun read, and I'm grateful to Netgalley for sharing the book with me.
DG_Reads 11 days ago
I received a complimentary digital galley of MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES by Kathleen West in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Berkeley Publishing and Edelweiss for the chance to read and review! In MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES Isobel Johnson is a teacher, trying to make a difference by igniting passion in her students in the midst of a very straight laced school. Julia Abbott is a helicopter parent to beat all helicopter parents and she is determined to micromanage her kids’ high school careers from ensuring her son gets a lead in the play to bringing down Isobel when her daughter seems to have learned to disparage motherhood in her English class. Julia and other parents like her have taken to social media to bring down what they see as anti-American propaganda. With rumored cuts to the teaching staff, stakes are high and Isobel isn’t sure who she can trust. Julia herself becomes the target of social media when her antics over her son’s play role get caught on film and the whole school is wrapped up in the drama. I read this book in the midst of the chaos that is the holiday season at the end of 2019 and it was a perfect light, funny read to take me out of my head. This book is told in multiple POVs including both Isobel and Julia and Julia’s children among others. I found this structure to work well to tell this story as you got a good glimpse at each character’s motivations as situations continued to spiral further out of control! If you enjoy a good, lighthearted book with some substance behind it and enjoy watching the mess that comes from adults behaving very, very badly, then this might just be the book you need! Keep an eye out for MINOR DRAMAS & OTHER CATASTROPHES by Kathleen West which it comes out on February 4, 2020!
Caroldaz 12 days ago
This was so very real and demonstrated how a minor incident can grow to epic proportions, impacting on the lives of everyone. There are many POV’s which enhance the story. We see high school life through the eyes of students, teachers, the administration, and the parents. There was humor, drama and a great deal of fun. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Katie__B 13 days ago
Even though there are quite a few different subjects explored in this novel, it was actually a pretty light read. It was like I was reading something with substance and value but how it was written with the different character perspectives made it a very easy book to fly right thru. Really enjoyed this one. High school teacher Isobel Johnson recognizes most of the privileged students she teaches pretty much live in a bubble and therefore she works hard in trying to get them to open their eyes to the world around them. She receives a threatening voicemail complaining about her progressive curriculum. Julia Abbott is your typical helicopter parent and one day she really messes up and let's just say her entire family is going to feel the consequences of her actions. So what do Isobel and Julia have in common? Well, they both are subjected to some gossipy posts on a secret Facebook page where parents complain about the school faculty as well as other parents. With so many shenanigans going on among the adults, it sure doesn't seem like this school is providing the best learning environment for the students. While I was reading this book I kept wondering who has it harder; the teachers, the parents, or the students? I've yet to come up with an answer but I sure am glad it has been years since I have been anywhere near a school as I don't think I could handle all that drama again especially now that social media has been introduced into the mix. There are many issues the author tackles in this novel but like I said before it doesn't feel like such a heavy read. With all of the different character perspectives you at the very least have an understanding of who they are as individuals even if you don't necessarily agree with all of their actions. My only small criticism is I thought Isobel was a little too picture perfect. The author barely grazed the surface of white female liberalism and I think it would have been fascinating if she would have explored that more. Overall, a good read and the type of book that would make for a fun book club discussion. Thank you to Berkley for providing me with a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review!