Humming "The Star Spangled Banner," instead of standing at silent attention like the rest of his class, propels ninth-grader Philip Malloy into the center of a controversy that ignites the media and polarizes his school. Journal entries, memos, newspaper articles, and phone conversations lend authenticity and immediacy to this wry, provocative novel.
About the Author
Date of Birth:December 23, 1937
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964
Read an Excerpt
Tuesday, March 13
Coach Jamison saw me in the hall and said he wanted, to make sure I'm trying out for the track team!!!! Said my middle school gym teacher told him I was really good!!!! Then he said that with me on the Harrison High team we have a real shot at being county champs. Fantastic!!!!!! He wouldn't say that unless he meant it. Have to ask folks about helping me get new shoes. Newspaper route won't do it all. But Dad was so excited when I told him what Coach said that I'm sure he'll help.
Saw a thing on TV about Olympic committees already organizing all over the country. Olympics. I'm going to be there! County champs. State champs. College champs. Then Olympics! Folks always reminding me about the money they're putting aside for my college, which is the only way to go. That's what did Dad in, dropping out. Too hard to get noticed with just clubs.
Rainy and cold. I hate this kind of weather. Slows you down. Still ran six miles. I'm getting stronger.
Oh, yeah.... At lunch Sarah Gloss came up and said she had to speak to me. Said this girl, Allison Doresett, likes me. I had to act cool because I wasn't sure who she was. Then I remembered she's in my English class and is really decent. She must have liked that gag question I asked. The two of us would be front-of-the-line. Bet she heard about my running too. Girls go for guys who win. Ta-da! It's Malloy Magic time!
Talk about Malloy Magic.... This time for -- dadum! -- Miss Narwin. I mean, what can you do with an English teacher who's so uptight shemust have been put together with super glue. Try to make a joke -- lighten things up a bit -- she goes all flinty-faced. Shift to sweet, she goes sour. I mean, people can't have their, own minds about anything!!! Talk about a free country!!! And the stuff we have to read! Can't believe how stupid and boring Jack London is! I mean, really. The Call of the Wild. Talk about dogs! Ma says she had to read it when she was in school. There has to be better stuff to read for ninth grade somewhere. I thought high school was going to be different.
Have to figure a way to run past Narwin.
From a Letter Written by
to Her Sister, Anita Wigham
Yes, Anita, I suppose that after doing anything for twenty-one years a body does get a little tired. And I have been teaching English at Harrison High for just that long. All the same, I remain steadfast in my belief that my life was meant to be the bringing of fine literature to young minds. When the connection is made -- and from time to time it is made -- it's all worth it. Is it wrong to speak of the work as a calling? Well, teaching is almost a religion to me. I will complain from time to time, but -- it is my life. The truth is, I like it.
But the other truth, Anita, is that students today are not what they used to be. There is no love of literature. Not the way you and I learned it from Mother. Young people don't read at all today- outside of school requirements. They come to literature reluctantly at best, fighting me every inch of the way. It's not as if they aren't bright. They are. And I like them and their capacity for independence. But the other side of that independence is a lack of caring for anything beyond themselves. If they ask me once more "What's this have to do with us?" I think I'll scream. Of course, I don't scream. You have to treat them with care and fairness. Fairness is so important to them.
For example: these days I'm teaching The Call of the Wild. A student raised his hand to say he didn't understand "who was calling who." Now if I were to laugh or mock, he would be insulted. And I would lose him.
This boy, Philip Malloy, is new to me. I met his parents at First Night, and they seem like pleasant folks; they come regularly to PTA meetings. They are educated -- she is, anyway. I'm not sure what they do.
But this Philip -- an only son, by the way, which may be the problem -- is only a middling student, and it's a shame. A nice-looking boy. A boy I like. Intelligent. With real potential. Perhaps that's why he irritates me so -- for he shows no desire to strive, to make sacrifices for the betterment of self, the way we were taught. And, oh, my, Anita, so restless! Worst of all, like so many of them, he exhibits no desire to learn. No ambition at all! But it's not even that I mind so much. No, it's a certain something -- a resistance -- to accepting the idea that literature is important. For him or anyone! But it is. It is! If I could only convince students of that. It's that desire that keeps me going.
I can hear you saying, "Come on down to Florida, Anita, I don't know if I am ready for that yet.
Yes, I could take early retirement. Mr. Benison (scence) is doing so. But then, he's older than I. And has a wife who works. The truth is, Anita, I would be lost without my books, my teaching, my students.
I had a note from Ethel Truebel! Do you rememberher? She used to be in the West Fork Church congregation years ago. It seems ...