Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Review: Saving Mr. Terupt (7 7th graders, a minor minor character in Margo the dog)

Saving Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea (Delacorte Press, 2016, 372 pages, $16.99, juvenile fiction, ages 9-12, grades 4-7)

Seven Kids Entering Seventh Grade. . . .

Each incident segment (junior high crisis) is written by or continued by different kids: the reader quickly comes to know all four girls and three boys, “besties,” but each as different as night and day.

One has a single mom, one lives with parents and “grands” on a farm, one is incredibly smart, one is a budding fashion designer, one is a wordsmith and carries her journal everywhere, one is a photographer, one is an artist, two are wrestlers, one is bullied, one has a baby brother whose origin is hinted at and written about in a previous title*, one finds a father and one almost loses a mother.

And a wedding and a baby, too.

Through it all is Mr. Terupt, no longer their teacher but still the person who has the most influence over our gang of seven seventh graders.

I love how each chapter is titled Anna or Jessica or Peter or whoever’s voice is the narrator - and each title, each name, is set in a different type font that depicts their personality. The following chapter and author/kid continues the story from a different viewpoint and, a couple of times, we learn about the same subplot from more than one of the “gang” members.

Mr. Terupt, T, Teach, was their 5th grade teacher and their 6th grade teacher and is quite the inspiration. He gave each one a special gift – a journal, a special book, his old wrestling shoes and headgear, . . . .

The Gang of Seven

The gang promises Mr. Terupt to stay together in junior high but it is hard: junior high is big and busy. However, they manage to do so when they have a project to work on: a school election, a fair, the school district’s budget. The gang also manages to lead the entire 7th grade (and even the entire the student body) but they are, after all, the stars we follow through their lives.

The reader will look forward to junior high or, if past that, will reminisce about the good old days, now that junior high is far behind.

The Trilogy

As 5th graders in Because of Mr. Terupt and as 6th graders in Mr. Terupt Falls Again and now as 7th graders, the gang manages to stick together miraculously by the skin of their teeth, through all that happens to the group and its individuals.

Each contemplates far beyond what the normal 7th grader normally does, using vocabulary that at times seems to mirror their future selves.

How such a diverse group manages to stick together and grow is somewhat manipulative but it works and works well. We come to love each of them.

I would recommend starting with the first book, Because of Mr. Terupt, (or the second, Mr. Terupt Falls Again, to fully understand the power of this teacher and the glue of the gang (starting with the third book whets one’s appetite to learn more about certain incidents that happen in the first two books, alluded to, and to have a need to find out about Mr. Terupt’s magic – it is spoken of but not lived through in book three – but will be experienced again in the sequel).

Wisdom** abounds (phenotype is genotype plus the environment) and not only from Mr. Terupt. One of the students starts a list of Seventh Grade Survival Tips that he adds to as the year progresses.

And the book is divided into months, starting with the end of summer and how some spent their summer vacation. The reader races through the year reading voraciously if even guessing correctly what will happen next.

The author tries so hard to give us seven very different characters (why?) but seven is a large number and the attempt to write in seven voices doesn’t quite succeed.

The Future

Saving Mr. Terupt would make an unforgettable movie or series of movies – full of drama and friendship and lessons (but not much school!)

*Because of Mr. Terupt and Mr. Terupt Falls Again are the first two titles in this trilogy so far. I suspect there will be sequels. In addition, BookPages has published the Kindle edition, 52 pages, of  Summary & Study Guide: Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea. Sort of a Cliff’s Notes so you know this is a book to read.

**”. . . it’s not necessarily the biggest or fastest individuals that survive, but the ones most responsive to change.” (page 357) And each of the seven gives us their best lessons learned in the last two pages. Words to grow by.

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