Driver's Ed Analysis
by Caroline B. Cooney

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Setting

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A contemporary urban landscape functions as the backdrop of Driver's Ed. School, home, and church are alternated throughout the novel. The homes that driver's education classmates Remy Marland and Morgan Campbell come from define their families' socioeconomic presence in the community. Remy's blue-collar family lives in a small ranch with a small kitchen containing old, "gold," mismatched appliances. Clutter makes this kitchen homey; the refrigerator is decorated with school pictures and accomplishments of Remy and her scummy but "lovable" kid brother Mac. Morgan's professional parents, two lawyers with one aspiring to become governor, live in an upscale, luxurious home with a spacious (but seldom used for cooking) kitchen gleaming with stainless steel appliances. Everyone has his own phone line and private space, including Morgan's bratty, middle school sister, Starr. Both families attend the same church, from which they eventually draw spiritual and moral direction in responding to their older children, who technically are considered juvenile vandals.

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Alternating the viewpoints of the two central protagonists after they learn of the fatal crash involving Denise Thompson provides increasing tension and momentum to the plotline. Cooney allows the reader to feel the increasing anxiety and guilt pressing upon Morgan as he watches the late news with his parents. Remy tries to distance herself from involvement with the accident until the following afternoon when she associates her beloved baby brother Henry with Denise Thompson's young son.

Remy stayed home with Henry while everybody else was out.. . . Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, when they were crawling backward down the stairs, which was his new thrill of the week, she thought: Denise Thompson's little boy isn't much older than this. She isn't crawling backward down the stairs with her baby son. She's dead. She'll never see her son grow up.

Remy began sobbing, first soundlessly and then with huge bawling groans... . Her little brother was stunned. He was the one who cried. Not his big sister! His world split open and he clung to Remy. His tiny hands patted her cheeks. "Me?" he said frantically "Me?" It's his first word she thought, and it's not me, it's Remy. He's saying my name. Bobby Thompson would be calling his mommy today, trying to find her... Oh God! thought Remy. Why weren't you there? Why didn't you stop me?

This quiet domestic scene escalates into emotional chaos as Remy realizes that death is final. The joy of Henry's first spoken word is undercut by Remy envisioning the Thompson child calling his mother's name. The power of the writer through word and event evokes a bittersweet epiphany for both the character and the reader. Adeptly Cooney brings painful moments of illumination to her characters' moral conscience.

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Cooney is sounding a wake-up call for adults as well as kids. Adults need to react to this form of vandalism, not ignore or accept by silence the trophy road sign in the bedroom. This neglect is as egregious as participating in the vandalism. Remy's mother is as angry with herself as Remy, because she saw the Budie Buick on that November evening but decided to trust Remy's judgment. The church and its message of "unconditional love" starts the healing process between parent and child for both Remy and Morgan, but they know they will have to live with their transgression for the rest of their lives. As Remy polishes the tarnished silver pieces to be used in the Christmas pageant, she feels as "tarnished" as these objects, only she will remain tarnished. Morgan, as volunteer coordinator for the Christmas pageant, feels he will never know the "heavenly peace" alluded to in the carol "Silent Night." They will always live with the memory of Denise Thompson for the rest of their lives. This bittersweet experience of living with one's deficiencies is part of the moral, human condition that evolves in this novel.

The publication of Driver's Ed in 1994 preceded the February 1996 incident in Florida when the vandalism of a STOP sign resulted in the deaths of three teenagers. The young adults who vandalized this sign were tried as adults, convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to prison. The circumstances and appeals related to this May 1997 trial received sustained attention through Court TV and Larry King Live. Although Cooney explores the law and the potential for prosecution in her narrative, she expends her literary energies on the testing of the moral integrity of her protagonists, which makes this novel a compelling reading experience.

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Caroline B. Cooney. http://www.dellbooks. com/teachersbdd/caro.html (June 1999). A brief look into Cooney's childhood and young adulthood with her early career goal of wanting to become a nurse.

"Cooney, Caroline B." In Something about the Author, vol. 80. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995, 55-57. Briefly assesses representative titles up to the publication date of this reference text.