Friday, January 04, 2019

The Unteachables

Korman, Gordon. The Unteachables 
January 8th 2019 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Mr. Kermit is entering his 30th year of teaching, and he's already put in for early retirement. He started his career full of grand ideals and enthusiasm, but a testing scandal over 25 years ago sucked the life out of him, and he spends his days handing out worksheets and doing the crossword while drinking coffee from a huge cup called "the toilet bowl". In order to push him to quit even earlier, the evil superintendent assigns him to a special class with a handful of students who are "unteachable". These include Elaine and Aldo, who both have anger management issues, Parker, who has severe dyslexia, and Rahim, who is artistically inclined but often sleeps in school because his father has band practice in the garage until late. Enter Kiana, who is staying with her father and his new family while her mother works on a movie, and who blunders into the class by accident and stays because she is intrigued. Next door, a perky new teacher, Emma Fountain, alarms Mr. Kermit because she is the daughter of his former fiancé, and she is filled with all sorts of warm and fuzzy classroom plans. She brings in Jake Terranova, who started the cheating scandal but who is now a successful car salesman. He invites the class to visit his dealership and repair shop, and the class starts to take off and actually learn things. Some of Mr. Kermit's old fire returns, but when the superintendent makes the numbers look like he is ineffective, his job is on the line. The students try to rally and enter a project for the science fair hoping to save their now beloved teacher, but they are not successful. Will something happen to save the day?
Strengths: This had a nice ensemble cast, and portrayed students struggling with different issues realistically. Kiana was an especially fun character. I really did adore Mr. Kermit, and could completely sympathize with his burnout (I'm only in year 20, but I can still understand), and the backstory with him and Ms. Fountain's mother was sweet. The use of Mr. Kermit's car was particularly intriguing. Parker and his ability to drive on a provisional license to help with his grandmother and the family farm will be interesting to students. A solid, funny novel with deeper issues.
Weaknesses: I love Korman's work, but the tone and topic of this seemed like it was from the 1990s and strained my credulity. I can't believe a teacher would get away with such classroom behavior today, and if he was that ineffectual, the superintendent could have built a case and fired him long ago. I was glad that the principal was a decent human being. Also, the incident with the vuvuzelas (plastic party horns) was okay, but the word was overused. It sounded to me more like a climbing vine and distracted me!
What I really think: I will buy this anyway, as it will appeal to readers who like school stories from multiple perspectives, like Wonder and Because of Mr. Terupt.

This is what I pictured the Coco Nerd (Chrysler Concorde) as looking like!

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