Minor Dramas and Other Catastrophes

Kathleen West. Berkley, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-09840-0
West’s humorous debut channels the competitive parenting and overblown school drama of Big Little Lies. Isobel Johnson, an English teacher at a top public school in Liston Heights, Minn., is bent on encouraging her students to think critically, but the school’s administration and some of her students’ parents accuse her of spreading radical ideas. First, a discussion on The Great Gatsby, in which she invited her juniors to compare their school’s community to East Egg, allegedly results in some of the students being made to “feel bad about where they’re from,” so says her department chair. In chapters shifting between Isobel and a particularly over-the-top parent named Julia Abbott, fallout from another one of Isobel’s lesson—about queer theory—leads to her suspension and a virulent social media campaign led by Julia. While many different characters flash by in short chapters, distracting from Isobel and Julia and staving off opportunities for emotional complexity, West successfully unpacks the problems of shaming and cancel culture with tight plotting and clean prose. West demonstrates a worthy talent for tragicomedy. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 01/23/2020
Release date: 02/04/2020
Genre: Fiction
Book - 978-0-593-09842-4
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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