Tuesday 21 April 2009

Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

Published by Harcourt Inc.
Distributed by Raincoast Books

Ms. Hempel is a seventh grade teacher who, while passionate about teaching and nurturing her students, sometimes wishes she could seek out a different path in life. It seems that every time she holds this debate in her mind, she can't quite grasp a way to achieve this without being seen as dishonourable. In these chronicles the reader gets to witness memorable moments of life through the eyes of this charming, yet seemingly fragile character. Often these moments are reflected through her relationships with other teachers and of course, her students.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The first word that springs to mind is 'intimate'. It's written in such a style that the reader can't help but feel a close bond with Beatrice Hempel as she moves through her life. She is charming, unsure of herself, and often finds herself visiting old memories and longing for a change she doesn't feel brave enough to reach for.

Through the various 'glimpses' into her life, Í couldn't help but feel sorry for this character. When we first meet her, she is in her early to mid twenties and we are still with her as she reaches the thirties but it often seems that the only thing to change is her age. I got the distinct impression that she tends to just stand still and let life happen around her, taking very little control over her own destiny. I was relieved when offered an image of her in earlier years when she had blue hair and dressed in torn t-shirts and leopard print mini skirts, as it showed that she wasn't always this quiet, almost timid woman.

Along with her quietness though, she sometimes displays a child-like naivety that is simply endearing. The naivety lessens as the years unfold though she still seems to retain an ‘innocence’. I would have loved to have seen more of this character and followed her through the next couple of years to see how she would further develop. It's rare to read a book and feel like you have so much invested in the content but with this title, it's exactly how I felt - almost like a doting parent, cautiously watching as Beatrice struggles to discover who she is and what she really wants in life.

This was a wonderful work of fiction.

Website: http://www.mshempelchronicles.com/Welcome.html

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