We’ve all had that one teacher; the one who got us like no other got us, and spoke to us in a way that let us know that they knew who we were and of what we were capable. (Mine was Ms. Rossman…)
For Steve, Topher and Brand, that teacher is Ms. Bixby. When they discover that Ms. Bixby has been struck with cancer and will be unable to complete the school year, they band together to give her a send off suitable for the teacher that she has been.
John David Anderson structures the book using revolving narrators, which is (universally speaking) a hit or miss approach… More often than not when we read novels that feature multiple narrators the result is that none of them feel fleshed out, with the voices either feeling undifferentiated or so dissimilar the book comes off as disjointed. It’s a tough row to hoe, but one that Anderson manages with considerable skill and sensitivity. It’s remarkable, really, how well he creates individual characters that play off of each other and feel real, while maintaining the experience of a cohesive and wholly readable book.
Likewise, in a synopsis, the characters of the boys are remarkably run-of-the-mill and border on stereotypes: Steve is a Japanese-American with a highly demanding father and a sister who has an almost robotic need and ability to succeed; Topher is a creative but socially awkward geek; Brand is a kid who’s had to grow up too fast due to a father with intense health issues (he’s paraplegic). If you read a lot of young adult or middle grade fiction at least one and probably more of these will feel very familiar. But again, Anderson takes them on with such affection and ability that they never feel like stereotypes; he reveals details about each of their lives so carefully, that we feel like we’re getting to know someone naturally. Furthermore, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is fantastically funny, and sad in perfect balance.
The only thing we question about it is the release date, in fact: Kids have just finished school… How many are going to feel compelled to sit down with a novel about a teacher? A small quibble, however, and not a substantive one about the book itself.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is a wonderful work; like the titular teacher, it’s one of those few novels that really speaks to the reader on a personal level.
Kinderlit.ca received a copy of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day in exchange for an honest review. Read about our Review Policy here.