Book: Because of Mr. Terupt
Author: Rob Buyea
Age Range: 9-12
Because of Mr. Terupt is a book that's been on my shelf for quite a while. I picked it up yesterday when I had a whim for realistic middle grade fiction. Because of Mr. Terupt is about the positive impact of a first-time teacher on seven students from his fifth grade classroom in small-town Connecticut. Foreshadowing (and a blurb by John Irving on the cover) suggests that an accident will occur at some point, lending a larger plot arc to a story that otherwise consists of a tapestry of small classroom incidents.
Short chapters rotate between the perspectives of the seven students (there are others in the classroom, but they are not primary characters). The book is divided into sections by month, starting in September, and going through the full school year. Many of the chapters are quite short, helping to make Because of Mr. Terupt a quick read.
The different viewpoints, while initially a bit daunting, are well-executed. By the end of the book, I scarcely had to look at the chapter titles to see who each narrator was. One girl writes her chapters like plays ("Act 1, Scene 1", etc.), which helps. The publisher also uses different fonts for each student's name in the chapter titles. The fonts are reflective of the students' personalities, and provide a quick visual cue for readers.
The characters represent different classroom archetypes (alpha mean girl, jokester/bully, math geek, angry boy, smart new girl, overweight pushover, and invisible girl). But there's more to each of them than that. Buyea does a masterful job in developing all seven in such a short book. Mr. Terupt, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. He is only revealed through his impact on the students, and the things that they observe about him.
Because of Mr. Terupt reminded me a bit of R.J. Palacio's Wonder, taking on classroom dynamics and interactions. Because of Mr. Terupt is a bit more broad, however, looking at bullying, various troubles at home, social stigmas, and tween girl drama. As an adult reader, I found some of the solutions to come a tad easily, but not grievously so. And I think that kids will find the problems true to life and the solutions satisfying.
Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for the book:
""Mr. T, can we invite James and his friends to our party?"
Everyone was quiet and looked at me. Then Jessica said, "That's a great idea." And the rest of the class agreed. Mr. T had a smile stretched across his face. He just nodded. And I thought I saw him wipe at his eyes. I don't know why he did that, though." (Page 78, Peter)
""You jerk," I said, without any real authority. Truth is, I didn't really care. It wasn't worth getting upset over. Besides, I'm sort of used to Peter's antics. I thought they were always harmless... Maybe I don't get upset with Peter because I know I'll always outwit him. That drives him nuts, and I love it." (Page 85, Luke)
Of course it's hard to give a complete feel without quoting all seven students, since their voices are fairly different from one another. But those were two representative passages. Rob Buyea taught third and fourth graders for six years before writing this book, and his understanding of kids comes through, I think.
Because of Mr. Terupt exactly fit the bill for what I was looking for. It's realistic fiction, full of mostly small classroom and personal challenges, but with a higher-stakes crisis to lend suspense. Because there are so many viewpoint characters, most kids (boys and girls) will be able to find some narrator to relate to. I would think that teachers and other adult role models would enjoy it, too. Certainly a must-purchase for elementary school libraries, and a recommended read for anyone who enjoys school stories. I anticipate reading the sequel, Mr. Terupt Falls Again, soon.
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: October 12, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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