Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ms. Hempel Chronicles - Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

I finished this book yesterday and I'm starting to believe that I may need to read it again. Not because I enjoyed it, but actually quite the opposite. I found this book difficult to get into and the main character, Ms. Hempel, self-congratulatory and irritating. The problem is that this book keeps appearing on "Best of 2008" lists and otherwise receiving wonderful write-ups. It makes me think I really must have missed something. Similar to The Wonder Spot, this book focuses on the same character, but each chapter is basically a stand-alone short story. In many ways, Ms. Hempel is a very real charaters - she is a new teacher struggling with teaching in an "appropriate" manner, but also in innovative ways that will engage her students. It is difficult, however, not to read her as simply trying to win some sort of popularity contest. She is also recently engaged, though the details of the relationship are sketchy (as is her fiance, it seems), and I didn't feel as if the author went much beyond the surface. While the reader can tell that Hempel is conflicted, and stuck in that age between childhood and adulthood, I just couldn't see her as anything more than a constant complainer. Yet, as I read more and more reviews, I appear to be in the minority, so this may be one I take another stab at down the road. But probably not anytime soon.

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