This is for anyone who thinks teaching's a cushy job, who thinks teachers are only in it for the money. Pat Riordan's in it for the kids.
Full disclosure: My daughter was a teacher in an inner-city setting for 15 years. Her first master's degree was in urban education. She dealt with many of the same types of kids, with the same backgrounds, as the fictional character Pat Riordan does in this book. From everything I learned from my daughter, I can say that the author captures the essence of what it's like to teach the lost kids, the difficult-to-educate, the kids whose backgrounds interfere with their very ability to learn, the ones whom society writes off.
Pat Riordan is devoted to his students. He uses non-traditional techniques to reach them, wherever they are, on whatever planet they happen to be on a given day. His personal life is almost non-existent, revolving around a couple of ninety-year-old-plus women in his apartment building and his cat, named Pig. He has a kind of "spidey sense" about a new student, Bobby, who's sent to the school he works for, Wolfcreek, which only admits troubled students or those who cannot succeed in mainstream schools.
Bobby shouldn't really be at Wolfcreek; he's been sent there because he had an altercation with a trash can, and the former-Marine principal won't accept that behavior. He doesn't try to get to the bottom of Bobby's behavior--he just sends him to Wolfcreek. Bobby and his mother Sarah were abandoned by Bobby's dad, and Sarah's choice of men has led to a terrible situation for Bobby and his wonderful dog, Bear. The dog is Bobby's only sense of comfort, and the man who's moved in with them is constantly threatening to kill the dog or bring him to the pound.
Bobby's the "new kid" in school, and it's Riordan's job to get the other kids to accept Bobby. Although it's a daunting task, he makes it work. The class consists of a group that reminds me of the "sweathogs" from the old TV show, "Welcome Back, Kotter." Each child has a saga of his own, and Riordan is sensitive to their needs without wimping out. He's tough when he needs to be and tender when that's called for. In short, the right kind of teacher for this group.
Enter a newly-minted PhD in administration who once taught in a classroom and now wields her new doctorate as power to shake up the school district in which Riordan and his fellow teachers combine to work with these kids. (Note: This is an all-too-familiar story from my daughter and her colleagues: New PhDs who either have no or very little classroom experience who decide they're going to make policy with little or no input from classroom teachers, who have to implement or suffer from those changes.)
I don't want to reveal more details about this book. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed it enough to read it in two days. The author does a believable job of demonstrating the very real challenges of today's teachers, as well as revealing the obstacles so many children these days face with their difficult home circumstances. He weaves an interesting tale of dedication and belief on the part of teachers in students whose lives would most likely be written off or just discarded on their way to prison or worse. He shows, through dialogue (although it's often on the part of a student who speaks out in class), how these students are talented, articulate and intelligent, despite having been labeled as the opposite.
If possible, I would have given this book 4.5 stars. The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is that I found the dialogue in the beginning to be a little formal between Riordan and people in informal situations (e.g., in a bar or between fellow teachers). Otherwise, I think this is an interesting, realistic book of fiction. I'm waiting for the next Pat Riordan book.
October 4th, 2020
Bricked centers on teacher, Pat Riordan, and his group of 'wire' boys at a hard-to-handle school, and the story places particular focus on Bobby, his new 12 year old student who is currently living with his mother and her abusive boyfriend. McGee manages to create an enthralling narrative that provides thorough descriptions without losing a sense of plot, and provides a distinct realness and sincerity to each of the characters that allowed me as the reader to feel much more understanding and empathy towards them. This is particularly in regards to Riordan's students, who McGee takes the time to create individual, distinct backgrounds for each one, which nicely contradicts how usually in real life, these students are often overlooked by their teachers. Despite its fictional nature, this novel gave me a much better insight into how these schools work as well as the politics involved between administration, government and teachers. Highly recommend!