The book that inspired the "gifted teacher conquers troubled students" genre. I didn't know it was based on the real life experiences of the author, but I like how it's adding another dimension to the story (i.e. we know what happens to the main character even after the book closes).
What I liked most
A small tidbit, perhaps, but my favorite moment was the very last scene of the book (no spoilers will follow). On their last day of school the kids present their "Sir" with a parcel, with a label on it saying, you guessed it, "To Sir, With Love". And the narrator's heart is full, and on that note the book closes, without revealing the contents of the package :)
This has to be the perfect ending, and I liked how the focus was on the feelings behind the gift, and how the material value of the gift itself was irrelevant.
And, if you are curious about the parcel's contents (I wasn't, but I just happened to come across the info), here it is:
And what was the mysterious, unnamed present given to him by his students at the end of To Sir With Love? Braithwaite seems embarrassed, then admits, “A very expensive set of about 100 cigarettes, custom monogramed ERB.” Unfortunately Braithwaite, didn’t smoke.
What I liked least
A man and the product of his time, Braithwaite is a little too fond of the word "slut". Well, he only uses it twice, but both times it was unwarranted (and keep in mind we're talking about fourteen year olds here). One time he comes to class to see a sanitary napkin burning in the fireplace; admittedly, this is not exactly a nice sight, but I thought his reaction, to call the anonymous culprit "a filthy slut", seemed to me to be sending the wrong message to the kids. Granted, those particular kids were used to derogatory terms, and the times were different, but to my (21st century) ears the term sounded a little too brutal.
What surprised me
All the movies that have sprouted up as variations on the book's theme (at least the ones that I remember now) have one thing in common: the school is in a poor/disfavored area, and no one among the teachers cares about the kids' future, the assumption being that said kids won't amount to much anyway. And then the main character comes in, refuses to take no for an answer, and convinces the kids to take school seriously.
In the book things are pretty much reverted. The kids are at a school with rules made entirely to their own benefit, and most, if not all teachers are trying to prepare them for life at best they can. In the beginning, Braithwaite disliked the kids, trying to focus on being a good teacher merely for the sake of doing a good job.
Was it worth reading?
Yes. It was interesting (and a tad shocking) to see how racism fared in 50s Britain, and it's also nice to know the roots of the genre. Three stars.
This is a classic book, and I generally love the classics. I also love books set in small towns, and in the 19th century. Try as I might, I can't get into Middlemarch.
I was sort of okay with it until Dorothea's marriage, but afterwards the characters changed completely and it seems like I cannot summon enough interest in any of the new ones, especially seeing as the story keeps moving from one to another.
It makes me feel very obtuse, the fact that I can't get into this book. So many people consider it a masterpiece, and I can hardly bring myself to read it.
I generally don't put down books without finishing them. But it took me over a month to read a little less than 20% of this, so in the end I decided my time will be better spent with another book.
The premise of the book is quite interesting: a teenage girl (and later on a woman) who can hear Jane Austen's voice, and thusly gets to benefit from her wisdom. But the whole thing falls flat because ultimately Ellie's life is not changed at all by the extra voice in her head. Leaving aside the fact where I didn't quite get why would Jane get in the head of a random teenager (Ellie doesn't stand out in any way, she never even read Pride and Prejudice before it was a school assignment), I found hard to believe this arrangement would last twenty years (or seven, in the pages I read, but even that is too much). Had Jane really nothing better to do than share head space with this random chick for decades?
And the thing that bothered me the most is that Jane's presence doesn't bring anything at all to the table, other than a few quaint phrases. The whole character felt simply tacked on because the author wanted to share a bit of the popularity of the Jane-Austen-revival genre that was en vogue at the time. Maybe the story would have been interesting otherwise -- I have no way of knowing, since I gave it up so soon -- but I personally felt cheated because I expected to see a book where Jane makes a contribution, and all I got was a book about a whiny teenager instead.
While this is far less enjoyable than the first book (which was utterly brilliant, and quite hard, if not impossible to surpass), I thought it was quite okay until Anne and her friends tried to kill a cat.
Somewhat ironically, the cat does not die and instead becomes Anne's very own pet (as she's the only one it trusts and loves), but I am so very disappointed both in the book and the author :(
Why couldn't Anne have just loved the poor battered animal before she betrayed its confidence so thoroughly? I get that the author wants to imply that Anne realized she cared for the cat when she almost lost it, but this could have been done a lot better by having the cat meet with some accident, with Anne rescuing it and caring for it.
Instead, she and Philippa tried to put it to sleep with chloroform, and then, when they heard it meowing after a while (so it was still alive), they left it there some more, just waiting for it to die already. How could I admire or even appreciate someone who does something like that?
This is not actually a review of the book, just a short commentary on it: for everyone out there who is happy that they/their children are learning a bit of history along the way,
a) Marie Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake", it's a misattribution that was corrected years ago, and
b) the French word used is actually brioche, not gateau, as the book incorrectly states.