Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.
This is absolutely not an inspirational story of a tough and idealistic teacher who reaches the hearts and minds of poor children who go on to fulfill their destinies as productive, law abiding adults.
It's the story of a broken system that has created the vocational school with the sole purpose of keeping society's undesirable not-quite-adults off the streets for several hours a day. There are a few ignorant people who believe in its stated mission (to teach the youth a trade with which they can earn a living) but the vast majority of teachers and students know better.
So, this is the story of a hopeful young war vet, with ink still drying on his GI Bill-funded-teaching certificate, with a pretty young wife pregnant with their first child, enthusiastic about his new career and his new family and his destiny, who enters this system and must learn to survive the inevitable disillusionment.
I normally would really enjoy this kind of story. It's well-written and I like this kind of gritty realism. I also always try to evaluate a book as a product of its time, but even so, I was dismayed by the pervasive sexism, both implicit and explicit. Women and girls are no more than receptacles and obstacles here. The author even spends quite a lot of time digging into the psyches of the two more prominent female characters, but they are each only caricatures - the grasping, envious, jealous, gestating wife vs the anti-wife, anti-family career woman serving as a distraction and danger to the men-folk. One character, a young and handsome teacher, spends the entire book complaining about having to teach in an all-boys school instead of his dream job teaching in an all-girls vocational school so he can f**k all the slutty juvenile delinquent students. All the other teachers, heroic main character included, regard his rants with humorous distaste, as if he were expressing a wish to plow through a buffet of greasy cheeseburgers.
If I'd been able to get past this, it would have been a 4 star read. It's an interesting story and doesn't cheat the reader at the end.
Audiobook via Audible, with a very good performance by James Patrick Cronin.