Nat(han Irving) Hentoff Geoff Fox - Essay

Geoff Fox

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The American boys' private school has had a bad press in recent times. John Knowles's A Separate Peace and Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War uncovered tensions and animosities of peculiar cruelty. Nat Hentoff's Alcott School [in This School Is Driving Me Crazy] is seen from a more comic standpoint, but the plot still turns upon bullying and extortion in the corridors and cloakrooms.

Sam Davidson is amusingly scatter-brained, highly articulate, given to thoughtless horsing around and basically a good kid; as is the way of many post-[Paul] Zindel heroes in American novels….

Nat Hentoff's dialogue is particularly lively and the scenes between [Sam and his friends] are thoroughly entertaining. The headmaster's problems about Sam (to the despair of his wife, he is unable to show his supportive love to his son) might seem implausible to the layman. In practice, headmastering regularly throws up circumstances where the public mask sits uncomfortably, threatening to mould the features beneath.

Sam is the target for criticism from other members of staff, and it is here that the book is least convincing. Teachers, absorbed in their community, may indeed lose a sense of perspective, but the personal animosity which drives Mr. Kodozoy to try to destroy Sam and weaken the head's influence is difficult to credit; as indeed is Mr. Davidson's vindictive pleasure in determining to increase Kodozoy's teaching load next year as retribution.

Very many readers will find the underworld of school, flourishing beyond the knowledge of the staff, all too believable, and the text's energy and hilarity should sweep readers along. Mr. Hentoff does not exactly tell it like it is, but he has that nicely judged sense of the slightly larger than it is, so satisfying to the inmates of the institutions he describes.

Geoff Fox, in his review of "This School Is Driving Me Crazy," in Children's literature in education (© 1982, Agathon Press, Inc.; reprinted by permission of the publisher), Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer), 1982, p. 57.