Thursday, November 27, 2014

Teach: Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea


I knew Teach couldn't move, but like, I hadn't expected him to be hooked up to so many tubes. I found the courage to tiptoe to his bed.
"Hi, Teach." I said. "it's Lexie." Already I fought back tears. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been mean to you. I wanted to hate you for saying those things to me, but you were right. Like, I'm doing better now, Teach. I'm not being mean. You'd be proud of me.

Teach, there's something I need to tell you. I think I saw Peter leaving here. Like, he's the one who threw the snowball. I know he didn't want this to happen. He loves you. All of us do. Peter hasn't, like, said anything in school. Not a word. But no one is trying to talk to him either. He did throw the snowball. So it's still his fault."

I had my face on his blanket when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up, and Jessica was there, and so were Danielle and Anna. I hugged them. I told them I was sorry. And then it was over. All of a sudden I had three friends. Like, Teach has helped me, even in his coma.

Mr. Terupt's fifth grade has some students with some real problems. Jessica's mom is newly divorced and now Jess is far from her California classmates, in a new school, and can't seem to find a friend. Danielle is overweight and Lexie controls her by alternatively including her in her circle and ignoring her. Lexie's mom, too, has had a bitter divorce, telling her "Don't let people push you around like your father did to us. You take charge and fight back," and having been dumped by her friends in fourth grade, Alexia vows to stay mean and in control. Anna, an illegimate child in a small town, is shunned by the more religious kids, although Danielle is sometimes kind to her when Lexie isn't around. Peter has no real friends, either, but he gets laughs when he clowns in class. Jeffrey hates school, and it seems to hate him back. Luke, too, is out on a limb, the smartest kid in the class, resented by everyone. Seven different kids with their own problems, and now they are Mr. Terupt's, problems, too. Helping this class work together for a year is not going to be easy.

Things get better, but when the first big snow comes in February, Mr. Terupt senses that his class seriously needs to blow off steam. The new snow is deep and white, and he gets permission for his kids to have a snow party, a recess off the concrete basketball court for a change. A monster snow mound is waiting, in the middle of the playground, just right for a game of King of the Hill.


The snow was perfect. The kind that packed and formed super snowballs. I scooped up a handful as we walked across the field, squeezing it over and over. "No snowballs," Mr. T. had told us, so I stuffed it down in my pocket. It was too perfect to toss down.

I was already standing at the top of the hill when I saw Alexia on her way up. I gave her a little shove. I laughed hard. She didn't. Everyone joined in. We knocked each other down and wrestled each other off the top.

I'm not sure how it happened. I fell off the mountain. Lexie ran over and kicked snow in my face. I was angry. I got on my knees, and BAM! I got knocked down again. This time the person held my face down in the snow, too. I was so mad I jumped up, pulled that snowball out of my pocket, and chucked it for all I was worth.

And Mr. Terupt, on his way to cool the action, takes the now frozen snowball right in the head. Unconscious, he's taken to the hospital for surgery, where he remains in a coma for months.

Whose fault is it? As they wait for Mr. Terupt to wake up, each of the kids comes to understand that what they had done all year had something to do with what made Peter throw that snowball. If only Mr. T. would wake up, they could tell him how much they miss him.
In his first book Because of Mr. Terupt (Delacorte Press), Rob Buyea pulls off a tour de force, a coming-of-age novel for seven students, each wrestling with the realization in which each of them share some responsibility for Mr. Terupt's near-death experience. Because of Mr. Terupt, seven children, balanced the brink of adolescence, come to know and understand themselves and each other better and how each one has an effect on the whole class. Learning to be responsible for one's own behavior is a hard enough task, but realizing that each one's responsibility or irresponsibility affects them all is the important lesson that Mr. Terupt leaves with them. It's a changed group of kids that the recovering Mr. Terupt returns to tell that he'll be taking the class through sixth grade next year, in Buyea's sequel, Mr. Terupt Falls Again.

It's like catching lightning in a bottle to construct a story that captures the changes in seven fifth graders just coming into self-awareness, but this best-seller grabs every reader with a recognizable piece of himself in the cast of characters. Buyea takes his students month by month through the school year, set in acts and scenes rather than chapters, with each of the seven providing the narration with their own perception of what happens. Changing points of view offers readers insight as the different accounts of what happened come together as each begins to see the whole picture. It's quite a novel--of a master teacher as his lesson plan for his students unfolds.

"If the school year is a series of events, then Mr. Terupt is the catalyst that starts the chain reaction," says School Library Journal.

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