John W. Conner

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

Maia Wojciechowska says that [The Rotten Years] is her only important book. It is certainly her best book since Shadow of a Bull. The editorial gimmicks the author has been intrigued by in recent books are skillfully handled in The Rotten Years contributing valuable effects: headlines scream actual news events; the succession of letters written by parents to Mrs. Elsie Jones come as a natural result of the activities in the story; varieties in type size call legitimate attention to important distinctions in speakers.

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The Rotten Years recounts one month in the lives of Mrs. Elsie Jones and her seventh-grade class in American history…. During this month Mrs. Jones vows (with her principal's blessing) to put aside traditional texts and homework and try to instill some of her own great respect for human life in her students. Her students become their own texts, studying themselves and their relationships with their parents and other human beings. In a carefully prepared series of lesson plans, Mrs. Jones tries to make her students aware of the conventional ways in which children are molded into adults like their parents before them, and the compromises adults make to achieve adulthood. Mrs. Jones believes that the evils in this system could be rectified by one generation of children. She asks this group of children to spearhead that movement.

Much of the author's passion for moral and spiritual truth springs from the text of The Rotten Years in a torrent of love. A reader easily senses the author's real concerns in those of Mrs. Elsie Jones.

Is this a book for adolescents? Possibly. Adolescents are rarely enthusiastic about adult philosophy thinly disguised as adolescent fiction.

Is this a book for teachers of adolescents? Definitely. I doubt that a teacher could have ambivalent feelings about this book: A teacher will love it or hate it. Elsie Jones commits herself wholly to her profession. She serves as a teacher, mentor, and guide for her students as long as they desire. A teacher who is afraid of such involvement will not like The Rotten Years.

Is this book for parents of adolescents? Yes. Maia Wojciechowska reveals the subtle influences which penetrate a thirteen-to-fifteen-year-old's defenses. A parent who is easily turned off by his child's divergence from an accepted norm (and aren't we all?) may reconsider his obligations to his child after reading The Rotten Years. (pp. 604-05)

John W. Conner, in his review of "The Rotten Years" (copyright © 1972 by the National Council of Teachers of English; reprinted by permission of the publisher and the author), in English Journal, Vol. 61, No. 4, April, 1972, pp. 604-05.

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