Ok, I taught middle school on the south side of Chicago (with a brief stint on the west side, to be completely accurate) from August of 1993 to June of 1997. I taught four years in the city, and I think those are the right years. I don’t have my resume in front of me. Anyway, I taught fifth through eighth grade communications in ninety minute blocks. When I first arrived at the small parochial school down south I speed-read a slew of YA novels so I could teach them come September. In turn I asso
Enter Down the Rabbit Hole.
Why this book?
1. The storyline seems like one my kids would like.
2. The storyline seems like one I would like.
3. People I know have spoken highly of the book.
4. An Alice in Wonderland theme threads through the book.
5. I found the book at Borders on a day when I had a 30% coupon so I snagged the book for, like, five bucks on a weekend when I wanted to read but wasn’t in the mood for anything too heavy.
I can say, without reservation, that my first foray into non-required YA reading was a success. Down the Rabbit Hole’s primary draw is the character of Ingrid. If Nancy Drew hated Math, loved Sherlock Holmes, and said things pissed her off, well, she would probably sound a lot like Ingrid. A failed attempt to walk from the dentist office to soccer practice brings Ingrid into the swirling vortex of lost soccer cleats, a stray dog, the police chief’s son, and the dark history of a local theater company.
Abrahams handles the typical teenage girl issues (e.g. trying to figure out if a boy likes you) with humor and respect but not too much of either. The ancillary characters such as Ingrid’s parents, her brother, the police chief, etc. are drawn well enough to carry side stories without distracting the reader. Of course the book is not without flaws. Some of the scenes are stock horror novel conventions (e.g. running in the woods…no wonder Stephen King gives a glowing cover nod) and I’m not sure why the dog plays such a prominent role. Even if the entire book is strong but workmanlike the last fifty pages or so were of the “the world can wait while I finish” variety. I can live with that, especially since Down the Rabbit Hole leaves the ponderous messages for other novels.
I remember one of my students saying “why do we always have to read books with such messed up people in them? And why do we read so many books about slavery and the Holocaust?” The kid had a point. Many YA books read like after school specials or focus on fictional kids’ experiences with historical tragedies…not very much fun and nothing most kids would want to read on their own. But back in my classroom, for a quarter hour every day after lunch (longer on Fridays), the kids read whatever they wanted. True, on a practical level I benefited greatly from these daily silent reading sessions because, well, I could catch my breath, but these stretches were also when I could tell the real readers from the students who saw these fifteen minutes as the most boring of the day. And if Down the Rabbit Hole were out then I could see the kids who wanted those fifteen minutes to last forever passing the book back and forth, covertly, under the radar, from friend to friend with the message, “Read this one. It’s cool.”
So, imagine, dearest Goodreader friends, all of us in the same sixth grade classroom. The teacher has declared we must read from 12:15 to 12:30 but the unwritten rule is “don’t bother me and I won’t bother you.” If I knew you liked to read I might pretend I had to throw something away and drop this book off at your desk as I passed. If you were a cute girl I’d probably be nervous. If you were a guy I’d be less nervous. But in any case I’d mouth these words as I returned to my desk.
Read this one. It’s cool.