The Priceless Book Review

Philip Hoy, author of The Revenge Artist:

Profit from Books Sold: maybe $10.
Knowing What Five Teenagers Thought of My Book: Priceless.

I wasn’t sure how to tell my high school students that I’d finally published my novel. I wanted them to be proud of me, sure, but more importantly, I wanted them to read it. I mean, after all, it was a young adult novel, and they were my target audience, weren’t they? I’d written it for them, hadn’t I? Considering that I am their English teacher and I make them read things, like books, there admittedly could be a conflict of interest, especially when they would have to buy this book themselves and a small percentage of their money would eventually go back to me. The money though, really wasn’t the issue. The problem was that letting them know how badly I wanted them all to read it would make me seem needy…and there are few things more pathetic, and less effective, than a needy teacher. That would give them too much power over me. Our relationship was based on mutual trust and respect. I mean, they needed me…I wasn’t supposed to need them, right? So in the end, I played it cool and gave them each a bookmark.

The bookmark included the cover art, a one-line blurb, and a website for more information. “Who’s the girl in the picture?” some of the guys asked. “I don’t know,” I told them. “She’s a model.” They wanted to know where she was from. “I don’t know,” I explained. “She’s like clipart, you pay to use her picture.” Perfect, I thought, the bookmark was really working. I could see they were already very interested in what I’d written.

A few days later, they threw a surprise party for me. A surprise party in high school means everyone secretly agrees to bring something to eat or drink to class, but doesn’t tell the teacher. A cheerleader or someone in ASB makes a great big “Congratulations” poster. There is at least some sort of cake with your name on it, a buffet selection of chips and cookies, and if someone gets them past security…Mylar helium-balloons. There is a ninety-nine to one hundred percent chance nothing you planned to teach that day will get taught, you will probably eat so much sugar your eyes will vibrate in their sockets, you’ll forget to eat lunch, and sometime before the end of the day cake will end up smeared on your face…tradition, apparently. If all class periods are involved, multiply this by five. So much for not letting them have too much power over me.

The next week, one of the reading groups in my first period announced that they couldn’t find a book in the library they liked, so the five of them—all boys—had decided to read my book. “I would be thrilled if you did,” I told them, and then went on to explain that because they would have to buy it I couldn’t hold them to their choice, because they had to have a reading book and the school library was full of them. “No, we’ll buy it,” they all reassured. A week later, only one of them had downloaded it. “You can’t use my book as an excuse for not doing your reading homework,” I threatened. “Select a book from the library instead.” To be honest, our relationship is based on mutual trust and respect…and probably a little fear. By the end of the week, most all of them were reading it.

Part of their reading homework is to participate in a weekly blog discussion with the other students reading the same book. The group members develop their own questions about the story and then post their answers to them. Then they respond to each other’s posts, agreeing, disagreeing, or just continuing the conversation. I must say, the guys really got into the discussion. Here are just a few excerpts from their group blog (hopefully, no spoilers).

They were upset at some of Evelyn’s behaviors:
  • Why would she want to do stupid things with him on their first date?
  • Why does Evelyn refuse to talk to her mother about her ordeals?
But they seemed to understand why she made the choices she did:
  • I know Evelyn is worried about her mother finding out the horrible problems she has been a part of in fear of disappointing her, like any other child would feel the same way.
  • I think Evelyn did it because she finally felt accepted. She wasn't a "freak" or just any girl when she was with Garvey and she liked that.
  • She is such a good girl that if her parents hear about what happened it might like make them lose their trust. So she tries to take responsibility and handle it herself.
Some of the male characters made them angry:
  • But like always guys have to ruin other guy’s reputations and make us look bad. 
They anticipated some of the plot points, but others took them completely by surprise:
  • Just to throw it out there, I like the book so far Mr. Hoy. Just like we mentioned, we can relate to it. 
  • Mr. Hoy got me good. I thought Garvey's intentions were sincere and that he truly liked Evelyn. 
And they made many other observations:
  • I do not understand why girls complain about guys being pigs when they are the ones that put themselves in these situations that allow them to be taken advantage of.
  • But I do believe that when you tell your parents the bad stuff that has happened in your life you open the doors to being a responsible young adult as well as being able to move forward from that situation. 
As their teacher, I am very pleased with the content of their discussion, especially when I know these students are not big readers…gamers, yes, movie buffs, sure…but readers, not so much. As the author of the book they were discussing, I can honestly admit…I am in FREAKING HEAVEN! Please don’t tell them.

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