Dear Mr. Westenberg, I am hereby withdrawing from Martin Van Buren Middle School. As you must know, I was not happy -- totally miserable -- I am finding school stupefying. Don't blame my mom and dad for not answering those letters you sent home. I wanted them to hear the truth from my own lips. You should also know, Mr. Westenberg, that I learned more in a month at Wilderness Discovery Camp than I learned in seven years at school.
Thirteen-year-old Kaitlyn, aka Katya, Antonucci drafts this letter in the woods on the way home from school. It is the first day of eighth grade. She'd reported for her first day of school, as she'd done every year, surrounded by friends. However, after spending a summer at Wilderness Discovery Camp, pursuing her passions, she just can't do it. She gets off the bus, walks through the door, turns around and goes home.
Katya is full of plans for homeschooling. She wants to prepare meals from foraged plants, learn about medicinal herbs, and eradicate invasive plant species. She plans to do real scientific research. First, she faces the hurdle of convincing her parents to allow her to homeschool. Not being college educated, and having no formal teaching experience, they doubt their ability to mentor Katya in her learning.
When her parents do agree to pull her out of school, Katya finds that their vision of home education differs vastly from hers. Katya wants to unschool -- pursue her own passions and see where they lead. Her parents insist on a carefully scripted eighth grade curriculum -- complete with a Daily Instructional Matrix. And to earn the time her mother will spend teaching her, she must help in her mom's beauty salon throughout the day.
Katya struggles to walk the line between keeping her parents on board with learning at home and following her own dreams. Meanwhile, she gains some new friends, including Eddie Horton, an elderly man who shares her passion for nature and ecology, Milo, a gifted violinist who has homeschooled all his life and loathes it, and Francesca, a popular junior high student who is tired of "playing the game," doing what peers and teachers expect of her. Along the way, she delves deeper into her interests and discovers her first love.
This novel avoids the ubiquitous stereotypes about homeschooling and offers a celebration of the variety of learning options kids can explore. The author took the time to actually research homeschooling and get a glimpse of the diversity of home educating families. In this novel, it is clear that one size doesn't fit all, and finding the best way to live and learn is a difficult journey in itself.
Lucy Frank also created a gifted, feisty, likeable young woman, trying to understand her unique mission in life, and an adeptly woven story. One of the most believable facets of the novel, for me was Katya's slippery journey to maturity. At times, she was remarkably mature and self-aware, with the presence of mind to advocate intelligently for her educational freedom. At other moments, she was reacting in rage or acting out due to boredom. It was easy for me to suspend disbelief and see her as a living, breathing adolescent girl.
I was also impressed with the author's eye for detail in describing Katya's forays into nature. I could see and feel the fertile, muddy pond, the woods, the scratchy thorns, and the abundance of plant life Katya explores.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I recommend it to all fiction lovers, especially pre-teen and teenage girls.
You'll find another review at Homeschooling Research Notes and one at Killin' Time Reading.
|5- Cherished Favorite||4 - Keep in My Library||3 - Good Read||2 - Meh||1 - Definitely Not|