Friday, May 10, 2013

"Surviving the Applewhites" Book Review

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan
I found this book whilst searching for some stories written about homeschoolers. It had been a New York Times Bestseller and from the brief description on the blurb I thought the girls might enjoy it. I confess it wasn't quite what I thought it would be.

It's about juvenile delinquent, Jake Semple, who has been placed with his Granddad after his parents are supposedly in jail for growing marijuana and if that's not enough Jake smokes, swears, and supposedly burned down a school. It doesn't go into those things in a big way but I confess because it was a read aloud I kind of skipped a few words or sentences here and there.
It basically starts with Jake having being placed at the home (farm like setting, Wit's End) of the Applewhites after being expelled from another school and Granddad not knowing what to do with him.

The Applewhites are a totally eccentric, artistic, yet mostly likable family (it's an extended family with a Grandad and aunt and uncle also) who run a "Creative Academy" for their children i.e. they appear to unschool.

As a last option Jake is going to live with the family and attend their "Creative Academy", it's either that or juvenile hall. Early on Jake isn't too sure that he made the right choice as the Applewhites unconventional ways really bother him but then he starts to change for the better. Frankly amongst this larger than life group, many of the things he thinks will cause some angst (only wearing black, piercings, spiked hair) just gets ignored so he gives up bothering. The Applewhites are pretty mad and can be a little self-absorbed and totally happy to let people express themselves (except for the smoking which they are anti) in any way they want, I can't imagine a lot shocks them.
There are a few other characters that come and go, like Govindaswami who stays with the family to help sweet, Aunt Lucille with her meditating. Even some of the families animals are super funny, like Paulie Parrot (who has a potty mouth), some mad goats (just like ours were!) and a family dog who adopts Jake and follows him everywhere.
One of the daughters, smart, sensible, E.D., who believes she's the black sheep of the family, along with Jake (who she clashes with) serve as two of the more "normal" members of the household yet after a while they both end up involved in one of the families theatre productions and thus themselves caught up with all the madness.
Both my daughters absolutely LOVED it. Really loved it! They hounded me daily for another chapter or two or three and despite my surprise over a few swear words (from memory they are mild ones, as the swearing is mostly inferred) and a couple a of things, like the teen smoking and Jake's parents being arrested (it just tells you this happened to you know why he's at his granddads), it actually turned out to be a funny and enjoyable book.

It is very light-hearted (well it is aimed at tweens) and whilst suggesting some deep concepts doesn't really go into much character depth and reasoning. This gave way for us to have some discussions. We were able to discuss why we thought Jake and even E.D. behaved like they did. What the girls did and didn't like about the "Creative Academy" and how their household ran or didn't, IE discipline, boundaries, etc. So whilst I personally felt the story a little unrealistic (and I hope kids reading it don't think all people home school like the Applewhites) it did open up some great discussions and for a fun read it was great.

There are 217 pages in the paperback and it says on the back it's for ages 10 and up which is probably about right.

1 comment :

  1. Lisa, I love your association of Creative Academy with unschooling! Hounding you for another chapter or three? That sounds like a wonderful recommendation!


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