There’s something you should know: I have absolutely no chill when it comes to books I love. This is why I never tried to be a reviewer—because I enjoy nothing more than to get completely lost in a book. So I’m going to spend the Deb release weeks less reviewing my colleagues’ fabulous works than losing my chill over them, because—wow. These are seriously good books.
So you can guess by now that I absolutely loved Kathleen West’s MINOR DRAMAS AND OTHER COMPLICATIONS, which dredged up all the old memories I thought I’d left behind after my year’s tenure as an English teacher at a private school. I gobbled this book up in one day. I skipped dinner for this book. That’s how delightfully real it was, from the trying-their-best theater kids to the overly focused parents to the life cycle of a rumor in the kind of small suburban community where I grew up. And I’m now using it as an example of how to make my own book worlds more real and how to raise the stakes on my own plots.
See, in science fiction and fantasy, we’re always trying to “raise the stakes” — we’re used to reading and writing stories in which the fate of the world is in abeyance or the heroes must save the Earth or the galaxy or the city from overpowered, faceless villains. MINOR DRAMAS is an object lesson in how to raise the stakes on characters without relying on the exterior stimuli we’re so used to. The stakes are “smaller” here, but they’re no less important or world-shaking. Everyone makes decisions based on what they feel are their best options at the time. Liston Heights is the world for people like Julia and Isobel, and the future of their kids is their galaxy. MINOR DRAMAS is a master class in how to “do” stakes, and I’m going to recommend it as such wherever I go. Kathleen treats the events that unfold with the gravity they deserve, and in the end that makes for a 5K PTA fundraiser read with the breathless suspense of a final battle.
Not that anyone is really a villain or a hero here. Everybody’s doing what they can, with where they are, with what they have. They’re all real people. And not every writer can pull off a seriously sympathetic viewpoint character with as many flaws as Julia Abbott—but Kathleen did it! Even when Julia is rolling into one bad decision after another, you’re rooting for her to become a better person. Julia Abbott? Isobel Johnson? They live in your town. They’re in your Starbucks line. They might be you or someone you know. You might be in this book—and you might not like what that tells you. We think we’re “above” all our minor dramas, after all, but reading this book asks you to ask yourself uncomfortable questions like: what’s my role in propagating situations like this? What’s the effect that “share” button on Facebook has on my community? Is this offhand comment I’m making really the best thing I should be doing here?
And it’s that realism within the wild plot that really grounds MINOR DRAMAS and elevates it all at once into major fun. Liston Heights feels like a real place. It’s a real school—since West is a real English teacher, you get a real dose of what it’s actually like to sit through another unwanted faculty meeting, to be torn between teaching a love of literature and measuring up to insane amounts of administrivia, and to stay late neglecting your own life to make just one more parent call. I only spent one year as a teacher—in the end, it wasn’t for me—but I remember being buried under piles of homework. I remember the internecine fights for who gets the copy machine first. I remember the first parent who came to me asking me to “adjust” their child’s grade, and the first teacher to tell me to “just stick to the basics.”
It is the rare and wonderful novel that really get to the heart of what makes a school run—the politics, the sacrifice, the fact that everyone from administration down is doing their best with situations that are rarely healthy for anyone involved. Perhaps MINOR DRAMAS, alongside its other successes, will prompt readers to re-evaluate the scarcity mindset of even the richest community school.
So! Those are the many reasons why MINOR DRAMAS AND OTHER CATASTROPHES was absolutely impossible to put down. So what are you waiting for? Wander down to your local indie bookstore and get Kathleen’s book into your TBR pile as soon as possible!
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