Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, by Ben H. Winters

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman
by Ben H. Winters
Review copy provided by publisher

Ms. Finkleman is just our boring old music teacher. Or is she?

It all starts with a Special Project in Mr. Melville's Social Studies class: Solve a mystery in your own life. For seventh grader Bethesda Fielding, one mystery is too tempting to ignore: Ms. Finkleman.

Bethesda is convinced that her mousy Music Fundamentals teacher is hiding a secret life, and she’s determined to find out what it is. But no one is prepared for what she learns. Ms. Finkleman used tobe . . . a rock star? Soon the whole school goes rock crazy, and a giant concert is in the works with none other than timid Ms. Finkleman at the helm!

But the case isn’t quite closed, and the questions continue to swirl forBethesda. Could there be even more to the secret life of Ms. Finkleman than she already revealed? With the help of her rock-obsessed classmate Tenny Boyer, Bethesda won’t stop until she solves the real mystery of Ms. Finkleman once and for all!
Andrew Clements has some competition. Not that Winters' book is derivative, by any means - it's just that he has that same rare ability to portray typical middle school kids simply and realistically, giving us a glimpse into the thoughts and motivations of an age group that usually has adults shaking their heads, wondering if there ARE any thoughts and motivations behind the actions.
He is also funny! We lost track of the number of times we laughed out loud, at passages such as:
"Tenny! Can you try to pay attention?"
"I need you to focus, Tenny. To try."
"I am. I totally...wait, what did you say?"
"So sorry to bother you, dear. It's just that I slaved away over a hot stove for five to eight minutes, carefully combining all the ingredients as directed by the box. And yet my perfect little child, more precious to me than life itself, won't eat. You hate it. You hate me. I shall stab myself with a salad fork."
Adults who think they are funny usually aren't, but Dad here pulls it off.

One of the things we love about Clements' books, and now about Winters, is that he lets us see adults as human beings with much the same needs and emotions as the kids in the book. Shocking, we know! Nobody is all good or all bad. Everybody grows a little, learns a little. Okay, we kind of guessed the ultimate secret, so the big reveal was bit less dramatic than it could have been, but all in all a thoroughly enjoyable book - and a new name for our "authors to watch" list. We give it a

4 out of 5.

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