Election – 4/5
The publication of this book is kind of curious. Tom Perrotta had had a book rejected or something like that and they asked him if they had anything else to offer, and he pulled this book out. Before it was even published it was already optioned and filming began. So the book came out almost at the same time as the movie. And this was one of those movies I randomly saw in the theater in high school and was blown away because it felt very daring in a lot of ways. Ultimately parts of it hold up and other parts don’t. It feels very much like a real high school, especially a public school, something that a lot of writers and filmmakers can’t really pull off. There’s secrets among the students, and secrets among the faculty, and Perrotta definitely has experience as a teacher and is able to show the fact that classroom teaching is only like 50% of what a teacher does, where plenty of other shows and books make it seem like 90%.
It’s very situated in the 1990s with the early onset of what sexual harrassment and power dynamics are, school shootings, and other 90s issues that feel more present today because of the ways that we’ve shifted in general about how we talk about them. So the sexual abusive relationship between a teacher and a student is fundamentally misunderstood by the adults who talk about it in this book, but I still think that that kind of misunderstanding would still happen in the minds of many adults in the schools I’ve worked in. Schools are a place in which new ideas and progressive understandings of the world occur, but it’s also a place in which regressive and conservative societal calcifications are firmly in place.
The book is still really insightful and funny, but decidedly less dynamic than the movie.
Nine Inches – 3/5
Like in Election, this collection of short stories often shows otherwise rational adults tip over into irrational realms when a choice is presented to them. Luckily in these stories, they are sometimes small moments. So in one story, we follow a teacher who figures out which of her students has left a nasty evaluation on a “Rate My Teacher” kind of site, and we can watch her decide to confront that student. We also watch a young pizza delivery boy who shrugs off an potentially abusive awful moment and still fall prey to other poor, adolescent decisions.
Among the stories are several that take place from within public schools, high school especially. Like with Election this is where Tom Perrotta seems to shine, as he refuses to center those stories in the eyes of teens, which is so commonly and I think falsely privileged in so much of contemporary fiction. I almost never buy the perspectives of the teens in so many YA books. I think books like Speak and Eleanor and Park are great examples where the perspectives feel authentic and real, while plenty of others are often the musings and remembrances of adults parroting teens. So Perrotta’s adults in school has a realness and authenticity that is often missing.