Sonderbooks     Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

More Info from

Rate this Book

Sonderbooks 12
    Previous Book
    Next Book

Young Adult Fiction
Children's Nonfiction
Children's Fiction
        Previous Book
        Next Book

Picture Books

2002 Stand-outs
Five-Star Books
Four-Star Books
Old Favorites
Back Issues
List of Reviews by Title
List of Reviews by Author

Links For Book Lovers

About Me
Contact Me
Post on Bulletin Board

I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


***The School Story

by Andrew Clements

Reviewed October 24, 2001.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.  2001.  196 pages.  Available at Sembach Library (JF CLE).

I loved this book.  It was funny, interesting, and brought tears to my eyes in spots.  It’s the story of twelve-year-old Natalie Nelson.  Her mother is an editor, who mentions that their publishing company is looking for more school stories.  So Natalie decides to write one.  Before she’s even finished, her go-getter friend Zoe reads the beginning and loves it.  She conceives a plot for Natalie to adopt a pseudonym and send the manuscript to her mother.  The plot thickens, Zoe poses as Natalie’s agent, and with the help of a teacher, they deceive a publishing company into giving the novel a fair chance.

I did enjoy the book, but I also have a huge peeve against it.  I felt a bit insulted, in fact.  Everyone who read Natalie’s manuscript loved it, from her best friend to her teacher to a humble editorial assistant to the head of the publishing company.  Have you ever read a book that everyone you know loves?  Isn’t it always true that somebody, through some personality quirk or other, hates the book, and someone else feels completely indifferent toward it or couldn’t get through it?

Besides that, it’s very hard to believe that a twelve-year-old could write a first draft that a professional editor could get excited about.  Not even a brilliant twelve-year-old who has been reading since she was a preschooler.  The author makes it very clear that what she submits is the first draft of the story, and that I especially found hard to believe.  If Natalie had been working on the book for a couple of years, then, maybe, I could believe that everyone would love her book.  But if writing a book is so easy, and all you have to do is sit down and do it, why are my friends and I having such a hard time getting our manuscripts published?  I guess that’s why I felt a bit insulted.

Maybe Andrew Clements writes simply brilliant first drafts that editors fight over.  I loved what Anne Lamott says in her book on writing, Bird by Bird.  She says that no one she knows writes good first drafts except one, “and we all hate her.”  I was inspired by Anne Lamott’s call to not be afraid of “Shitty First Drafts” and enabled to carry on and finish writing in spite of that.  This book takes the opposite view.  It suggests to impressionable young minds that the old mystique of brilliant writing flowing from the pen is the way it has to be.

That doesn’t seem fair to kids.  I can easily see bright twelve-year-olds sitting down and trying to imitate Natalie’s success.  Will they get discouraged when their first draft doesn’t turn out to be great literature?  Wouldn’t it be better if this book mentioned the old tried and true writing advice:  “Writing is rewriting”?  And will they understand that even if a manuscript IS great or has great promise, not every person who reads it will recognize that?  That’s why great manuscripts often get rejected many times before they finally find a publishing home.

However, despite all that, this was a truly excellent book.  The story was engaging and the characters delightful.  I think that non-writers, with no ego involved, will love it.  And it does show many realities of the publishing process (like the size of the slush pile--Natalie’s “agent” figures out a clever way to get around that).  Anyway, even for me, it’s a nice fairy tale.  I wish such a thing could happen to me--I’d live happily ever after, just like Natalie.

Reviews of other books by Andrew Clements:
A Week in the Woods
Jake Drake: Teacher's Pet
The Report Card

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

-top of page-