Publishing Info: July 14, 2011 by Independent
Genres: Adult, Comedy/Satire
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Date Completed: June 3, 2012
"In the first place, God created idiots. This was for practice. Then he created School Boards." -Mark Twain
After a murder at Bonaire Elementary, Richard and Anna Lee Gray seek a good school for their son Nick in a safe neighborhood. Their search leads them to Malliford, a "school of excellence." When redistricting sends scores of minority students to Malliford, iron-willed Principal Estelle Rutherford declares war on kids to raise test scores and save her reputation. Dissident parents revolt, electing Richard to head the Parent-Teacher Organization, and tensions explode. Welcome to Chain Gang Elementary, home to vast right-wing conspiracies, 3rd-grade gangsters, and bake sale embezzlers-where toxic childhood secrets boil over, reformers go stark raving mad, and culture wars escalate into armed conflict. A tale of war that is poignant, timely, and brutally funny, Chain Gang Elementary is a One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest for the K-6 world. First Sentence: In the twelfth year of his marriage, sixteen months before the shooting, twenty-one shopping days until Christmas, and eight hours before he reckoned for the tenth time that his wife didn't love him, Richard Gray met a woman who would have roughly the same effect on his life a tornado has on a trailer park.
Breaking It Down Further: Newly established PTO president Richard Grey has big shoes to fill and big wars to win. Convinced to commit to the position, he begins the biggest battle — taking down the tyrannical principal, Miz Rutherford. The principal has only her own agenda, which is her personal gain, maintaining her status of power, and maintaining the picture-perfect status of the school. When the school’s district is rezoned to incorporate a *gasp* apartment complex with primarily African-American and Latino families, things at the school begin to go haywire. Under the administration’s direction, these new students — which should have added to the diversity of the school — are clearly treated differently, such as being forced to do manual labor (or the working’ on the “chain gang”) as a punishment or being put into the classroom with the only black teacher. While most parents look the other way, Richard begins to actively campaign for the removal of Principal Rutherford while also trying to keep his family from crumbling.
There were so many things I enjoyed about this book. Jonathan Grant has an excellent way with words and it’s apparently throughout the whole novel. He has a fantastic vocabulary and an extremely creative way in manipulating them. He has such a great way in which he creates a play on words or a play on names. There was such creativity in double meanings of a word or phrase and he was just downright clever.
I also really enjoyed how dynamic the characters became. You can see the growth of Richard’s son Nick and how he changes throughout the school years featured in the book. Richard himself goes through several changes during the course of the book.
The story itself of such school corruption, the sensitivity of the racism issue that sadly still exists in many places today — It was a very bittersweet story and there are so many thought-provoking elements of the plot.
BUT — The book was just entirely too long. There were quite a few times where I did want to give up. I really enjoyed so many aspects of the book! Why was it so hard for me to keep reading? The plot just didn’t really pick up until closer to the end when Richard got some real progress as far as his stand against the principal and he finally figures out how he wants to sort out his family life. From the beginning through the middle, I felt like the story just dragged on. It was filled with clever dialogue and witty banter which I couldn’t get enough of! But it was just an extremely slow pace in which not much happened in what should have been the meaty parts of the book. I really wanted to power through and finish so I could really get a full grip of the story.
Another problem I feel here is that since I received the copy as a courtesy from the author in exchange for a review, I really wanted to give it a good review. This is always my problem when I am given a book from an author or publisher — I really want to give a good review because they were so kind as to give me a copy of their book. No one wants to see a bad review, but the whole point of reviewing is to be honest. That is also why I felt like it was so important to point out how many good things I liked about the book!
It was just the slow plot that really dragged me down. I considered stopping a couple of times, but since this was so generously given to me to review, I really did need to finish and given a true review.