Before I had my own kids and got into book reviewing, I was a behavior counselor to inner-city elementary school students. It was a hard and thankless job; I lasted less than 2 years before I was burned out. The stories told in “Miss?”, by Laurel McHargue, remind me of my own time working with troubled youth. It is heartbreaking subject matter, but I’m so glad McHargue has told her story because it’s important. This is an especially great read for book clubs. You can find “Miss?” on Book Club Reading List.
Maggie McCauley is fresh out of the army and lands a job at a failing middle school teaching 7th grade English in Denver, Colorado. With the looming threat of their school closing, Maggie does her best to teach students who have far more serious issues on their minds than expanding their vocabularies. “Miss?” provides a heart-wrenching account of many of the challenges faced by both teachers and students in public schools today.
I think the biggest strength to “Miss?” is its obvious heart and realism. Maggie’s students face challenges daily that no child should ever have to deal with. They are children of drug addicts, live in homes with little to no supervision; some parents are abusive, while others are working too many jobs trying to make ends meet and are simply not present. Some speak no English at home. Upon hearing about one student whose mother was a drug addict and was being raise by his grandparents,
“Maggie was incensed, and an abrupt surge of what could only be described as a maternal instinct lit a fire in her chest and made her want to scream.” (Chapter 17)
I have felt this before in my job as a behavioral counselor. Even when the kids drive you crazy with their antics and continued disrespect, frustration can melt away in a moment and be replaced by a fierce love and desire to protect them from the injustice they have been dealt in life. “Miss?” showcases these students and makes the reader fall in love with them through Maggie’s eyes.
While I was reading I kept hoping to learn more about Maggie outside of school and her present teaching life. We learn very little about her family and I wondered how she fit in with them. There were opportunities where McHargue could have added that layer of depth to Maggie, like when she visited home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but only mentioned briefly that she had visited home rather than giving the reader a glimpse into that aspect of her life. There were other characters as well from which I wished for more: Grant, her boyfriend for part of the novel, and many of her co-workers were somewhat shallowly developed. I understand the focus of the story was Maggie’s relationship with teaching and her students, but adding more depth to supporting characters would contribute to a more vibrant and realistic story.
Overall this was a very well written story. If you have ever been a teacher, worked in a school in any position, have a child in public school, will ever have children in public school, have ever attended public school, or have any interest in learning about the school system then you should read and will enjoy this book. Ha, so really, everyone should read it. 🙂
McHargue has taken a difficult subject matter and presented it in a way that will both educate and entertain readers. Most importantly it makes you care about and be aware of what many teachers are dealing with in our schools. Go find yourself a copy and enjoy an enlightening read!
Book the author for your next book club meeting through Book Club Reading List
Buy it on Amazon
Add it to your bookshelf on Goodreads