Author: Joshua Gaylord
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Release Date: October 5, 2010 (paperback); October 2009 (hardcover)
I've read other mixed reviews for this one, and mine might be somewhat mixed in itself. I actually liked this book.... but it had elements that made me uncomfortable.
Hummingbirds takes place at an elite private school, Carmine-Casey, on the upper east side of Manhattan. It's somewhat of a social commentary on the lives within the school. The teachers, the students, and the combination of both.
The goods: Well, I enjoyed this book for much of it's literary merits. The writing was engaging but smart. I loved each sentence and paragraph for its wording. The author's has his writing down, for sure. The character studies, which was one of the main points, kept me transfixed as well. Some characters were developed better than others. For instance, we get much more into the mind of the main character, Leo Binhammer, and his circumstances, and he seems to be fairly genuine. But then other characters, like student Dixie Doyle, were fairly stereotypical and/or represented the idea of that type of character rather than being an individual herself. But this actually worked for me in the book, especially because in many ways I felt this book was a commentary on that lifestyle. I also felt that though there wasn't a huge climactic situation, there was still some subtle tension, for instance, the whole background between Binhammer and new teacher, Hughes. Not to mention the way in which Hughes starting work at the school gives Binhammer this identity crisis because, after all, he is no longer the only male teacher for whom the girls fawn over, etc.
Another slightly fun aspect was watching the interactions of the teachers in the teacher's lounge, etc. (Made me think of Glee...) When you're young you think of your teachers as TEACHERS and that is the end of their identity! But seeing them interact with each other "behind-the-scenes" was fun.
The bads: The main literary aspect that bothered me was the constant transitioning from one character's thoughts to another. The narrative was supposed to be omniscient, overlooking all the characters at the same time. But it seemed that the narrative got into each individual's thoughts too much for having an omniscient view. So one second you're reading about Binhammer's thoughts and then all of a sudden we know exactly what Sibyl is thinking -- not because we are assuming by the way she acts but, instead, the narrator is telling us exactly. Then it would switch to another character, back to Binhammer, then to another, etc. It was strange for me.
And now the elephant in the room... this is a story about a young-ish high school teacher who has sexual tension with his high school students. Granted, their seniors and are 17-years-old for the most part, but they are still KIDS, and the whole concept made me squeamish. Especially because of the work that I do (with kids, of all ages, who have been sexually abused) it made me somewhat squeamish. Kari over at Five Borough Books explained it well in her review... considering the author has also worked at a prep school and, in that sense, is similar to the main character... it's even weirder. I don't want to believe that all male teachers actually picture their high school students naked or are overly conscious of where on their bodies they've accidentally touched or grazed. To a certain extent, I know that some of what he talked about is genuinely how things happen. I know girls fawn over their male teachers, especially if they are relatively young and attractive. And this part of the teacher's identity was reflected in his jealousy over the new male teacher that swayed some of the girls his way. But just the underlying tension between the teachers and students was uncomfortable for me. And I wonder if I just didn't get what point the author was trying to make. And there was a scene where the high school student, Dixie, wants to kiss her friend's young, pre-pubescent brother, and I also didn't get that.
Soo... while I was interested in the world of Manhattan prep schools, thought it was a great character study and literary novel in general, a lot of the actual content made me feel slightly awkward and did nothing for the lack of trust in most of the male population that I already have. It's certainly a difficult dichotomy to explain!
I read this for TLC Book Tours. Check out the other reviews on the tour:
Tuesday, October 5th: Write Meg
Thursday, October 7th: The Scholastic Scribe
Monday, October 11th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Tuesday, October 12th: Helen’s Book Blog
Wednesday, October 13th: Bookstack
Wednesday, October 20th: Life in the Thumb
Friday, October 22nd: After ‘I Do’
Monday, October 25th: Bookworm with a View
Tuesday, October 26th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, October 28th: five borough book review
Wednesday, November 3rd: Take Me Away
Friday, November 5th: Tales of a Capricious Reader