Sunday, October 28, 2012

That's Not a Feeling

Because so many first-novels are coming-of-age tales, it is no great surprise that Dan Josefson’s That’s Not a Feeling follows the pattern. No, the real surprise here is how good this book is for a first effort. Within the confines of a boarding school for troubled teens called Roaring Orchards, the author creates a unique little world that is as appalling as it is funny – and he makes it all seem very real.

Although only those being completely honest with themselves would admit it, Roaring Orchards is a place for desperate parents to park children with whom they can no longer cope. Some of the teens are suicidal, some are borderline criminals, some are former addicts, and a few are simply incapable of coping with everyday life. Roaring Orchards represents the last chance their parents have to save them – and to reclaim a normal life for themselves. That Aubrey, the school’s headmaster, strictly limits contact between parents and children makes it that much easier for parents to rationalize the relief resulting from their children’s absence.

Benjamin, who has already tried to kill himself twice, agreed to tour the boarding school with his parents only because it “calms them down.” By the time he realizes that his is a one-way ticket, Benjamin’s parents are long gone. He does not want to be there, and he lets everyone know about it. But until he can figure out the system, he is going to have to take it one precarious day at a time.

Dan Josefson
Aubrey uses an inflexible set of rules – bordering on rituals - to keep his Roaring Orchards students in line. The students, ranging in age from 14 to 16, are divided into three groups, or “dorms,” with distinctive sets of privileges and obligations for each group. At the top of the hierarchy are “Normal Boys and Girls,” followed by “Alternative Boys and Girls,” and “New Girls and Boys.” “Normal Kids” have the run of the school and the headmaster grants them a status almost equal to that of his teachers. “New Kids,” the group with zero privileges and special work obligations, is where everyone begins his stay at Roaring Orchards – although for some it is a revolving door of a dorm they never seem to escape for long. Consequently, “Alternative Kids” are very much aware that they are always one slip-up away from returning to the “New Kids” dorm.

This is not a happy place for anyone but Aubrey. Teachers are as unhappy as their students, the main difference being that teachers can escape (as they regularly do) by quitting the school, while students are limited to desperate prison break runs that never gain them freedom for long.

Immensely observant and insightful, Benjamin is also quite the chronicler and That’s Not a Feeling is a wild ride – sometimes horrifying, sometimes hilarious, always unforgettable.

 (Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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