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Wolff, Tobias. Old school, a novel.

WOLFF, Tobias. Old school, a novel. Random House, Vintage. 195p. c2003. 0-37570149-4. $12.00. SA

Old School has the feel of a novel written 30 years ago, another crack at the turmoil of adolescent development in a school setting, like A Separate Peace. Here we seemingly have yet another prep school with a hothouse atmosphere, and what gets the hormones going isn't the big game, a Latin trivia contest, or a dead poets society: it is a writing contest where the winner gets to meet a famous guest writer. How much today's students will get the star worship of long-gone idols such as Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway is anyone's guess. Perhaps the time period in which it's set, at the start of the '60s, allows moral issues to be set in sharper relief, as authors are freed of the need to include contemporary drugs, cynicism and the omnipresent vulgarity in language and culture. Here we see primarily the pure idealistic lure of doing great things and the ways young people (of course anyone!) can want something too much for their own good.

Old School is as readable by 16 to 18-year olds as earlier school favorites, but really plumbs more subtle territory in its depiction of the attractions and dangers of the writing life and, especially, its philosophical exploration of the meaning of honesty, academic and otherwise. It was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book for good reason. The novel is written with a great ear for language and a deceptive sophistication that creeps up on readers as they race through the scant 195 pages. Wolff, the acclaimed author of the memoir This Boy's Life, has written a wonderful book, but it does read as if it came out of a time vault. Daniel Levinson, Teacher, Thayer Acad., Braintree, MA

S--Recommended for senior high school students.

A--Recommended for advanced students and adults. This code will help librarians and teachers working in high schools where there are honors and advanced placement students. This also will help extend KLIATT's usefulness in public libraries.
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Author:Levinson, Daniel
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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