Thursday, July 08, 2004

Up the Down Staircase

A few years ago, when they were leaving the country, some friends gave us a large pile of books. Many of them are extremely uninteresting, so I went through them a couple of times and extracted the ones I thought were worth reading. Somehow, I missed this treasure until today.

Up the Down Staircase [] is the story of Sylvia Barrett, a young teacher who begins her career at an inner-city high school. From an Amazon Review:
Miss Barrett arrives at Calvin Coolidge High, to teach English to a motley band of students. Among them are: Hormone-addled Linda; resentful, angry Joe Ferone; woman-hating Rusty (who repeatedly tells Barrett that he would like her if she weren't "a female"); Edward Williams Esq., who thinks that everything is racially-prejudiced; soppily romantic Alice, and a slew of others. Miss Barrett realizes over time that the kids are screaming out not just for education, but for love and understanding. But will her idealism break through to them?

The dialogue is funny, especially since quite a few of the students don't spell-check. ("Fuk"?) There are also suggestion box excerpts ("You think it's fair when a teacher takes off 5 points on a test just because I misspelled his name wrong?"; "We're behind you 85%!") and book reports ("We study myths to learn what it was like to live in the golden age with all the killings"; "We read it because it's a classicle").

Up the Down Staircase is similar to To Sir, With Love [] in its portrayal of an idealistic teacher who struggles to break through students' distrust, but with significant differences. Up the Down Staircase is more light-hearted and personal, funny and quick-moving. It isn't a novel in the traditional sense; the story is narrated entirely through letters, memos, circulars, excerpts from a suggestion box, minutes of staff meetings, and so on (reminiscent of 84 Charing Cross Road). Well worth the read; I stayed up with it all night.

1 comment:

Dileepan said...

Oh! Must surely check out the book. 'To Sir, With Love' is a favourite. Recently procured a copy for myself. Incidentally, 'Riot' by Shashi Tharoor unravels the plot with a similar narrative -- letters, telegrams etc. 'Uncle's Letters', a short story by RKN is an all time favourite.