***The School Story
by Andrew Clements
Reviewed October 24, 2001.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 2001. 196
pages. Available at Sembach Library (JF CLE).
I loved this book. It was funny, interesting, and brought tears
to my eyes in spots. It’s the story of twelve-year-old Natalie Nelson.
Her mother is an editor, who mentions that their publishing company is
looking for more school stories. So Natalie decides to write one.
Before she’s even finished, her go-getter friend Zoe reads the beginning
and loves it. She conceives a plot for Natalie to adopt a pseudonym
and send the manuscript to her mother. The plot thickens, Zoe poses
as Natalie’s agent, and with the help of a teacher, they deceive a publishing
company into giving the novel a fair chance.
I did enjoy the book, but I also have a huge peeve against it.
I felt a bit insulted, in fact. Everyone who read Natalie’s manuscript
loved it, from her best friend to her teacher to a humble editorial assistant
to the head of the publishing company. Have you ever read a book
that everyone you know loves? Isn’t it always true that somebody, through
some personality quirk or other, hates the book, and someone else feels
completely indifferent toward it or couldn’t get through it?
Besides that, it’s very hard to believe that a twelve-year-old could
write a first draft that a professional editor could get excited about.
Not even a brilliant twelve-year-old who has been reading since she was
a preschooler. The author makes it very clear that what she submits
is the first draft of the story, and that I especially found hard to believe.
If Natalie had been working on the book for a couple of years, then, maybe,
I could believe that everyone would love her book. But if writing a
book is so easy, and all you have to do is sit down and do it, why are my
friends and I having such a hard time getting our manuscripts published?
I guess that’s why I felt a bit insulted.
Maybe Andrew Clements writes simply brilliant first drafts that editors
fight over. I loved what Anne Lamott says in her book on writing,
Bird by Bird.
She says that no one she knows writes good first drafts except one, “and
we all hate her.” I was inspired by Anne Lamott’s call to not be afraid
of “Shitty First Drafts” and enabled to carry on and finish writing in spite
of that. This book takes the opposite view. It suggests to impressionable
young minds that the old mystique of brilliant writing flowing from the
pen is the way it has to be.
That doesn’t seem fair to kids. I can easily see bright twelve-year-olds
sitting down and trying to imitate Natalie’s success. Will they get
discouraged when their first draft doesn’t turn out to be great literature?
Wouldn’t it be better if this book mentioned the old tried and true writing
advice: “Writing is rewriting”? And will they understand that
even if a manuscript IS great or has great promise, not every person who
reads it will recognize that? That’s why great manuscripts often get
rejected many times before they finally find a publishing home.
However, despite all that, this was a truly excellent book.
The story was engaging and the characters delightful. I think that
non-writers, with no ego involved, will love it. And it does show
many realities of the publishing process (like the size of the slush pile--Natalie’s
“agent” figures out a clever way to get around that). Anyway, even
for me, it’s a nice fairy tale. I wish such a thing could happen to
me--I’d live happily ever after, just like Natalie.
Reviews of other books by Andrew Clements:
A Week in the Woods
Jake Drake: Teacher's Pet
The Report Card
Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund. All
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