cover image ridiculous/ hilarious/ terrible/ cool: a year in an american high school

ridiculous/ hilarious/ terrible/ cool: a year in an american high school

Elisha Cooper, . . Dial, $16.99 (257pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-3169-1

Cooper, known for his savvy picture books (Beach ; A Good Night Walk ) and his parenting memoir, Crawling , trains his sights on teens with this perceptive documentary account of an academic year at Walter Payton High, a magnet school in Chicago (a few references locate the year as 2005–2006). Focusing primarily on seniors, he intersperses scenes about Emily, the straight-A soccer captain “who walks through the halls as if she were knocking people out of the way”; Maya, the intense actor who has a “small-town affect” and “could play the role of The Good Student”; Daniel, the overachieving class president whose role model is Barack Obama; Anais, the dedicated ballet dancer; Diana, the swimmer with a brother in jail; Anthony, obsessed with an ex-girlfriend and permanently ensconced in the cafeteria; Aisha, the only Muslim on campus; and Zef, the failing, caffeine-addicted insomniac. The school milieu is sharply and wittily evoked in deadpan transcriptions of anonymous conversations and descriptions of ordinary events like a basketball game (after it ends, the freshman who misses a key shot “jogs over to the basket and jumps into the air... placing the imaginary ball into its rightful place”). Readers looking for a story, however, may be disappointed; the considerable strengths of the work come from Cooper's genius for observation and confident refusal to dramatize what he finds. Illustrated throughout with small sketches; final art not seen by PW . Ages 12-up. (Mar.)