Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review: FROM BEDSIDE by Fred Goldstein

Sometimes teachers end up learning the greatest lessons from their students.
FROM BEDSIDE by Fred Goldstein is the embodiment of that dynamic.
A 29 year old high school English teacher in Cherry Hill, NJ, bored to tears with the state curriculum and second-guessing his career choice, Goldstein finds inspiration in  Steven Estep, a 7th grade student with an easy smile and sharp sense of humor.
Steven, recently diagnosed with bone cancer, is quickly bed ridden.  Goldstein volunteers academic and moral support, beginning a journey to provide Steven the best and most exciting education possible, recruiting help from the director of the CIA, Bill Bradley, Julius Erving, Mike Schmidt and a host of other high profile individuals.
But this story isn't about the fundraisers, the publicity; it's about a courageous thirteen year old boy who quickly becomes an adult, and a young teacher who also must grow up fast.
This teacher was my teacher.  Mr. Fred Goldstein taught me 7th grade English at Beck Middle School in Cherry Hill, NJ.  He was humble and funny and witty and smart and he didn't yell at me when I accidentally spilled my baseball cards on his floor.  He taught me to love books and to write with a purpose.  He taught me to think for myself, to challenge authors and debates classmates.  And years later, he tutored me for the SAT.  He was everything you could ask for in a teacher, and everything I wanted to become.
Reading about his work with Steven -- the strides he made in Steven's life, and most importantly the impact Steven had on him -- made for a truly magical book.  Which, as an English teacher, is about the greatest gift you can give.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Pull of Gravity Book Review

Nick Gardner's father just walked out on him--and he's still walking, all the way to New York City to lose weight.  And Nick's best friend, Scooter (a.k.a. The Scoot), is dying of progeria.  Scooter's wish: to return to his estranged father a signed copy of Of Mice and Men.
Enter Jaycee Amato, a female, a good-looking one at that, and braver than Nick.  Jaycee's wish: get out of town.  It'll work for Nick. What follows is a road-trip to satisfy Scooter final wish.
The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner is more than satisfying.  The tension and humor in Nick's voice, Scooter's innocence, Jaycee's longing . . . it stays with you long after you've put it down, which is an important quality of any novel, but especially for a coming-of-age story that is as bold as its characters. Polisner's unflinching look at friendship in the face of illness is to be admired.  I, for one, will never forget it.