Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman
by Ben H. Winters
Harper, 2010. 247 pgs. Fiction

Mr. Melville is not a particularly beloved history teacher at Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School, except when he assigns a Special Project when his students can choose any question relating to their own lives and answer it--for credit. Bethesda Fielding takes on a school mystery for her SP--what's up with Ms. Ida Finkleman, the quiet, mousy, essentially invisible band and chorus teacher. Everyone knows a little something about the other teachers, but no one knows anything about Ms. Finkleman. Imagine the studentbody's surprise when Bethesday unearths evidence that Ms. Finkleman was once a punk rocker--Little Miss Mystery of Little Miss Mystery and the Red Herrings. Well, that changes everything. Suddenly her students respect her and the principal asks her to take charge of the annual Choral Corral because she is so tired of losing humiliating bets to the principal of Grover Cleveland Middle School. But Ms. Finkleman is upset at Bethany for meddling in her life, and makes a secret pact with her and Tenny Boyer, resident rocker--Bethesda to tutor Tenny in American History and Tenny to secretly make all the arrangements and assignments for the concert. Bethesda can't save Tenny unless they cheat on Mr. Melville's Floating Midterm, and when they are caught they are forbidden to participate in the concert, but other surprising events make for a bittersweet but ultimately satisfying ending to this very funny middle school tale. Winters rightly acknowledges his considerable debt to the movie School of Rock, and the same sort of laughs can be had here as well as a sprinkling of OMGs, this being Middle School. A fun fast read with lessons to be learned.

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