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.