Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review: Chain Gang Elementary by Jonathan Grant

Malliford Elementary prides itself on being a four star school and a School of Exellence.  No one is sure when the school received both distinctions, especially not the principal Mrs. Rutherford.  She was not in charge when this took place, but she has made it her goal to get that elusive fifth star.  The only thing standing in her way is PTO President Richard Gray.

That's right, PTO.  Another piece of legend surrounding this school is what happened to the PTA.  The only thing anyone knows is the PTA was disbanded and parents organized the PTO, an organization instead of the association, in its place.

This story follows Richard Gray and his battle against Miz Rutherford, as he refers to her, and her minions.  According to Richard, he got under her skin when he would not allow the PTO to purchase expensive furniture for the principal's office.

Richard has other problems as he is a struggling work-at-home newsletter writing dad and has lost sexual intimacy with his wife, the primary bread winner of the family.  He didn't plan on becoming president of the PTO, but now that he is, it has added even more strain on his marriage.

The book starts out slowly.  It opens up with Richard and his son, Nick, in a bookstore and a chance meeting with a fellow mother of a student at Malliford. Halfway through, I realized I did care about the war between president and principal, but I didn't really care about the characters.  They were all full of dark and bad that it turned me off, totally, even though I wanted Richard's side to win.

The writing is a little crass.  Grant uses "ass" instead of "butt" and certain euphamisms like "took a leak" instead of "used the bathroom."  It might not bother the average reader, but it bothered me.  I understand that curse words and stuff along those lines can be appropriate in the right context, but it felt unecessesary and like the author was just writing the way he spoke without proper editing.

Speaking of proper editing... Typos and errors run rampant throughout the book.  Words are spelled wrong.  Italics miss out on the first letter of words.  Paragraphs are broken in places they shouldn't be broken.  Words are pluralized when they shouldn't be.  Editing seemed to be on the bottom of the list of things Grant had done for his book.

What bothered me the most are the attacks on conservatives and Christianity.  Richard is a Democrat, an outspoken liberal, and his wife is a "brainwashed" Republican conservative who watches the "ghastly" Fox News.  Whoever is in Richard's way is considered a conservative and their values and beliefs are diminished.  He gets upset over an article titled "Do Stay At Home Dads Cause Gay Sons?"  Rightfully, he should.  He's a stay-at-home dad and feels this is a direct attack at him.  It's in the beginning of the novel, so it is harder to pinpoint if it is, but Richard takes it personally.  In the article a child psychologist is quoted as calling the study "a half-baked right-wing attempt to mold the American family into the foundation's own reactionary image."  Richard's opinion on the article?  "People were born gay.  Anyone who was the least bit enlightened knew that." Thanks for calling us Christians unenlightened.  Really makes me want to continue reading.  One of the main bad guys in the story is part of a very strong Republican organization.  I guess the idea is to portray Republicans as pure evil.

I give this book between 2.5 and 3 out of 5 stars.  That averages to 2.75, but I don't know if the book deserves more or less than the 2.75.  I won this book in a giveaway.

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