Friday, April 3, 2009

The Academy

The final book I read on my Spring Break trip (actually only made it half way through before the trip ended so I finished over the weekend) was The Academy by Bentley Little. Mr Little writes in the horror genre and this is perhaps the 8th or 9th book I've read by him. He likes to take ordinary circumstances that most of us have had to to deal with and then put in a horror element that then spirals out of control. Previous topics have included The Store, one of my favorites which turns the local chain box store (Walmart type) into an evil presence in the community. He has written similar things with a house, a university, a town, a home owner's association, etc. My favorite Bentley Little book so far was The Ignored which deals with an adolescent who is shy and so ignored by friends, family, and school that he literally fades out and becomes virtually invisible and discovers there are others like him. It seems like many of us can relate to that. Beware though; if you've never read a Bentley Little novel, they do tend to be very sexual, many times graphically so.

Unfortunately, The Academy will rank among the lower end of the Bentley Little books I've read. I was intrigued by the cover blurb because this time the evil surrounds a charter high school. Since my son attends a charter high school I was curious as to how the evil would manifest. The main plot proceeded in a predictable pattern, probably too predictable. If this was my first book by this author that might not have bothered me too much but it seems like this one was sort of a retread of his other works. I read in the author bio at the end of the book that Mr Little spent at least a little time in his life as a teacher. It sure didn't seem like he knew much about charter schools though; more like he was using talking points put out by the NEA depicting charter schools as "bad". He takes those things on faith and exploits them for the purposes of horror. The problem though is that those talking points are biased opinions put out by an organization that is threatened by the very existence of charter schools. No doubt some charter schools are better than others but Mr Little seems to paint them all with a broad brush here. And it's not a pretty picture.

He also fails to disguise his anti-conservative political views. I really don't care where on the political spectrum my authors dwell, and if a particular character is blatently liberal or blatently conservative that's fine, especially if it pertains to the story. But if you are going to editorialize then at least get the basic principles correct. There are parts in this book that you'd swear were written by Michael Moore.

But what irked me the most was the stupid characters. Not one of them acted like any normal, rational person would act. When confronted by the off-the-wall "requirements" for parents to volunteer their time and money (or else) , the parents thought it odd. I would have found a new school for my child. When a student sees the girls' physical education teacher engage in obvious (and sick) sexual behavior with the entire class, she tells her best friend but that's it. These kinds of incidents, resulting from the growing evil, are numerous and serve only to demonstrate the stupidity of the characters as they fail time and again to do anything about it.

Mr Little does write in a page-turning style which works though. Despite the negative aspects of the plot and characterization it was pretty easy to keep reading. I guess I was hopeful that in the end, when the evil was finally discovered and dealt with, there would be some redemption. Unfortunately, the book fell flat here as well. The evil was known from almost the first page and it was a mercy killing at the end, for the reader. Of course the charter school converted back to a regular public school and all was good again. Disappointing to say the least. I may still read books by Mr Little in hopes for another one like The Ignored but it may be a while.

For my short story reading I selected the collection of Native American myths that has been sitting on my shelf for years. I won't comment on each of the stories this time because they are quite short and I'll be reading 2-3 between each novel. When the book is done, I'll blog about it then.

Next up for novel reading: Telegraph Days by Larry McMurtry

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire