Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reading - School Days

I have recently finished School Days by Robert B. Parker - it is part of the Spenser series, and concerns a school shooting. There were two things that I really want to talk about, but first let me say that the book is excellent. So much so, that I was able to overlook a crucial plot point which is one of the things I will get to. So, Grade: A

First, and warning this is a teeny spoiler so if you want to go spoiler Mary, then, skip ahead. Spenser had been hired by the relative of one of the boys, ostensibly to prove his innocence. If you have ever read a Spenser novel before, you know that he just finds what he finds and is often more interested in a greater truth. Anyway, at one point Spenser is questioning various people about possible reasons or motives for the two teens who have confessed to the school shootings. One person mentions that the teen Spenser has been hired to assist had been finding dark things on the internet. It is established that the teen could not have done this at school, since the computers there are heavily restricted as far as what can be accessed. (We are just going to ignore that of course any dedicated teen could likely get around that and move on.) So, Spenser asks the parents if he can look at the teen's computer and finds that he doesn't have one, and his parents don't think he knows how to use one. No. I'm sorry - this child has floopy (my technical term) parents. I would be willing to believe that the teen had been given a computer and had lost or broken it, part of his punishment may have been not getting a new one. But it is not realistic that a middle class teen, with a doting grandmother, attending a high pressure prep school not only never asked for a computer, but was not in some way required to have one for school. No way.
And this thing is, this whole bit is just a set up to help Spenser figure out that the person who told him that the teen had been going to bad places on the internet was lying. Certainly there was something else she could have been lying about. As I said, the book is well written, and aside from that blunder, is a great story which why I gently closed it to yell, "Bullshit," instead of throwing it across the room. I adore Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, but did none of the editorial staff catch this? On to the good (or more of it).


One of the things that got me was a conversation Spenser has with Rita Fiore, a lawyer who recurs throughout the series. In questioning classmates as to what they thought the motivation for the two alleged shooters doing this is, one of the students comments that she's surpised it doesn't happen more often. This leads to Spenser and Rita discussing the various things that are outside your typical prep school teenagers control: what they wear, their schedule, when to talk, how to talk, what activities to particpate in, and so on. All this added to adults telling you this is the easist and best time of your life.

I was so struck by this. I was in a meeting with other adults who work with teens and we were asked to think back to what our experience as a teen was like. The person next to me - who read her list first - had freedom, no responsibilities, hanging out with friends, and having fun on her list. My list included lack of freedom, choices being limited, transportation constraints, lack of control. I am certainly not denying the validity of the other person's list. But for me, I had great friends, but I was really hoping life got better after high school. And in many ways it did. I'm not saying I didn't have fun in high school, or that there is something wrong with people who do, but this mythology that this is the best part of your life I think does everyone - young and old - a disservice. If you are having a crappy time, how depressing to hear that this is the pinnacle. And if you are having a great time, how depressing to hear that it won't ever get better, it's all downhill.

Now certainly I did not get my driver's license until I was in college (my parent's did not even let me take the test until I was in college - after my younger sister had already gotten her license, but my mother will tell you I wasn't motivated) and I had been attending the same school - by the time I graduated - for ten years, I wore a uniform, and my junior year coincided with some serious family issues that made home life suck. But I was not in a position to change these things. Goodness knows my life (as does anyone's) needs constant work and attention, but at least as much as can ever be expected is in my control today. Sure there are days when I want to give that responsibility back, to lend it out temporarily, and sure I still can't wear just anything or do just anything if I want to - for example - keep my job. But I much prefer this. Much prefer.